Are the Browns piecing together a monster offensive line? Only Father Time holds the answer. But the potential was evident when rookie RB Trent Richardson blasted through gigantic holes as the team practiced in full pads for the first time.
Even less-notable RBs Brandon Jackson, Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya churned up huge chunks of yardage in the secondary after bolting into open territory. They especially thrived running left behind All-Pro LT Joe Thomas and emerging LG Jason Pinkston.
Enthusiasm must be tempered by the knowledge that the success was achieved against a defensive line that ranked 30th against the run last year in yards surrendered. But that statistic is deceiving. The Browns finished closer to the middle of the pack in yards yielded per carry, and the numbers were skewed by horrific performances against Houston and Baltimore.
Adam Caplan of Scout.com listed the Browns as owning one of the top five offensive lines in the NFL. He tweeted, “OL has a ton of upside. All young guys with a ton of talent. Looking forward to seeing them playing together.”
Coach Pat Shurmur has already proclaimed rookie RT Mitchell Schwartz as the starter despite giving veteran Oniel Cousins first-team reps. Schwartz should vastly upgrade a side of the line that proved weak in both run and pass blocking a year ago -- and pass blocking is key considering rookie QB Brandon Weeden is a pocket passer, not a rollout guy.
Shurmur has praised the linemen since camp begin. Though he acknowledged that the backs enjoyed particular success running left Sunday, he understands the importance of keeping defenses guessing. “You have to be able to attack all through the line,” Shurmur said. “You have to be able to run left and right and up the middle.”
The addition of Schwartz should create such versatility. Injuries and poor performance by Tony Pashos left the Browns lacking on that side last year. So did the inexperience of both Pinkston, who blossomed in the second half of the season, and RG Shawn Lauvao. The Browns ranked 28th in rush offense in 2011, but the run blocking was far less to blame than the inability of Peyton Hillis to stay healthy and the team's lack of a capable backup.
Even a fit Hillis pales in comparison to Richardson in terms of athleticism. Richardson hits the holes with greater speed and quickness than Hillis did even in his fine 2011 season. That will allow the former to take better advantage of strong run blocking.
The greatness of an offensive line must be honed over time. Familiarity is as much a key as any ingredient. Shurmur mentioned again Sunday how important it will be for Pinkston to learn his craft between perennial Pro Bowler Thomas and center Alex Mack, who has also ridden his talents to Hawaii.
If Pinkston maintains the pace of his development and Schwartz, considered by some as the top right tackle prospect in the draft and playing well so far in camp, realizes the potential scouts have claimed for him, the Browns could boast one of the premier lines in the NFL by midseason.
Stay dialed in on the Cleveland Browns on Twitter at @CBSSportsNFLCLE throughout the season with on-site updates from CBSSports.com RapidReports correspondent Marty Gitlin.