Browns thin at center as they prepare for potential of facing Buccaneers NT Vita Vea

15 days ago Akron Beacon Journal

Browns thin at center as they prepare for potential of facing Buccaneers NT Vita Veaplay

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WATCH: Post-game Huddle: Same old song in Motown as Browns fall to Buffalo Bills

Analysis of the Cleveland Browns loss to the Buffalo Bills, one that feels very familiar given the season.

Chris Easterling and George M. Thomas, Akron Beacon Journal

BEREA − Those who know the movie "This is Spinal Tap" know about the film's running joke surrounding the band's multiple drummers and the bad luck that seems to befall each of them.

Browns centers are apparently playing the real-life role of Spinal Tap drummers. It seems like all of them are dealing with something.

Last Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, the Browns lost starting center Ethan Pocic to a knee injury. Reserve offensive lineman Hjalte Froholdt came in to the play the remainder of the game in Pocic's place.

On Tuesday, they placed Pocic on the injured reserve list. They also signed veteran Greg Mancz to the active roster.

“Obviously, Po was playing really well," quarterback Jacoby Brissett said Wednesday. "Definitely tough to lose him. Hjalte on short notice came in and played well. I think we kind of ironed out a lot of those issues during the game. Obviously, a week of preparation with him, we’ll be fine.”

Where the latest problem arose is that Froholdt wasn't available to work with Brissett on Wednesday. He missed the practice with an illness.

The Browns don't believe the illness to be something that will actually impact Froholdt's availability for Sunday's game against Tampa Bay. However, with the team off on Thursday for Thanksgiving, it cuts down on the preparation time available for whoever, be it Froholdt, Mancz or someone else, ends up playing center against the Buccaneers.

“Working through it," coach Kevin Stefanski said of the center issues. "Sometimes you get to late November and things can get wonky along certain position groups. We are working through it. Obviously, Hjalte is sick today so that presents some things that we will work through today. I think we will be all right.”

Mancz is the only true center the Browns currently have on the roster. Drew Forbes is technically a guard, but can also play center in a pinch, as can tackle Chris Hubbard.

Joel Bitonio, the Browns' All-Pro left guard, said after Sunday's game that he was the emergency center should something had happened to Froholdt against the Bills. Long snapper Charley Hughlett was also mentioned Wednesday by Stefanski as a possibility.

The center position was a spot that seemed cursed, even back in training camp. Nick Harris suffered a season-ending knee injury on the second play of the preseason opener at Jacksonville, while Dawson Deaton − who was working some at guard − also sustained a training-camp knee injury that cost him his rookie season.

Of all the weeks to be thin at the position, this week may be as bad as any potentially. That's assuming Tampa Bay doesn't have its own injury issue to worry about in the middle of its defensive line.

Buccaneers nose tackle Vita Vea is arguably one of the best interior linemen in the league when healthy. He's recorded 6.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss this season, both of which lead the Tampa Bay defense.

“He is a great player," Stefanski said. "He is so, so physically just big from a measurement standpoint. Then just the way he moves his feet, it is very, very rare to have a guy that size who moves laterally and is so powerful. In terms of the center position, he is a tough player for any center in the league. We understand that and understand the challenges that come with that.”

Vea, though, was also absent from practice for the Buccaneers on Wednesday due to a foot injury. Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles, a former Browns assistant under Butch Davis, told reporters he was unsure if Vea will play in Cleveland.

Browns' Greg Newsome II, David Njoku sidelined from practice

There were five Browns players who did not practice on Wednesday due to injuries, including Froholdt. That list also included cornerback Greg Newsome II (concussion), safeties Ronnie Harrison Jr. (illness) and D'Anthony Bell (concussion), as well as tight end David Njoku (ankle/knee).

Newsome, Harrison and Bell were all absent from the field during the open portion of practice. Njoku was working with trainers to the side, as well three players − receiver Amari Cooper and defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett − who were getting veteran rest days.

Bitonio was also among the sick Browns on Wednesday who missed practice. His absence was listed as both illness and rest.

Perrion Winfrey back at practice, still in concussion protocol

Rookie defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey was back on the practice field on Wednesday. It's the first time in a week that the fourth-round pick has been on the field.

Winfrey was out the entire week leading into the Nov. 13 game at Miami due to an illness. He returned to practice last Wednesday in advance of the game against Buffalo before sustaining a head injury that kept him out the next two practices and the game.

“He is working through the protocol," Stefanski said. "He is going to practice today. Not everybody is in the same step, if you will, of the said protocol. He is coming along. He was in the concussion protocol.”

Winfrey's rookie season has been disjointed at best. He's been inactive for the last three games after playing in six of the first seven.

Contact Chris at [email protected]

On Twitter: @ceasterlingABJ
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