Cleveland Browns' Wyatt Teller 'just learning how to play next to a new guy' at center
BEREA − Wyatt Teller has had nine snaps so far heading into the preseason finale Saturday against the Chicago Bears. The first snap that really matters, though, is still nearly three weeks away.
Everything Teller, and the rest of the Browns for that matter, are doing now is about that Sept. 11 date in Charlotte when they open the regular season against the Carolina Panthers. That means there's still plenty of time for he and his teammates, especially on the offensive line, to get themselves ready to go.
For that offensive line, that's going to be important time together after the way the preseason got started.
"Kind of scary the first week, week and a half," Teller said Tuesday. "We had two guys on the offensive line go down. It's always tough when you see your buddies falling."
The two guys Teller was referencing both also happen to play the same position: center. The Browns lost starter Nick Harris on the second play of the preseason opener in Jacksonville to a knee injury, then lost seventh-round pick Dawson Deaton two days after that to a torn ACL.
The one spot on the line where the Browns truly were starting someone new started the preseason as one of the most snake-bit on the team. Harris, in particular, was a tough loss since he hadn't just worked mostly with the No. 1 line throughout the offseason and early in training camp, but also spent the past two seasons getting extensive practice reps.
"He worked so hard to get where he was at," Teller said of Harris. "He put on a lot of weight in the offseason. He got strong, he got big. It just sucks to see it happen. You always hope that everybody does well, then there's some guys who've earned it and you're like, I hope he really does well. He's one of those guys. He's bringing the same thing that he brought every day, attention, focus."
The relationship between Teller and the center position is crucial not just in the macro, in terms of how it helps the entire offensive line perform. It's also important in the micro, in terms of how those two individuals interact and work in tandem.
That's where the last 10 days or so have been so important for Teller and Ethan Pocic. Pocic was signed this offseason after starting 40 of his 57 career games with the Seattle Seahawks.
Pocic brings a 6-foot-6, 320-pound frame to the center position. That's been an adjustment that both Teller and his counterpart on the left side, All-Pro Joel Bitonio, have had to make to their new teammate.
"He's a big guy," Teller said of Pocic. "Strong base. I've been stepped on a couple of times and like, 'Ah.' Nick, his feet were insane, but Po's feet are really good. I'm not coming at Po, just jokes. Just learning how to play next to a new guy."
Teller and Pocic did play alongside each other for seven snaps after Harris went down against the Jaguars. Bitonio, though, didn't play in that game.
All three interior linemen didn't play in Sunday's second preseason game against the Eagles. Michael Dunn slid over from guard to handle the first-team center reps, with Blake Hance and Drew Forbes flanking him at guard.
The new projected starting interior trio did get two days of work in against the Philadelphia Eagles' stout defensive front during the joint practices the two teams conducted late last week. That allowed for them to continue to develop the chemistry together, accelerated by the fact they were going against someone else besides their own teammates.
"I don't want to say that this is good, but we have time to kind of get up to speed with a new center," Teller said. "It's not like it's in the middle of a game or middle of a season, where we have a little bit of time to kind of focus in and get better, which is important. I wished it never happened, but if it happened, at least it was early enough in camp that we can kind of get back to full speed."
The Browns' offensive line still has 18 days until it has to line up in a game that matters. Not only is it acclimating to another new center this preseason, but it's also getting back on the same page with right tackle Jack Conklin, who is starting to get more reps in team drills the past few practices as he returns from a torn patellar tendon suffered last November.
Not every one of those days are going to be spent in practice or in a preseason game. Still the reps the line has together in practice are extremely valuable reps that can do nothing but help them as they prepare for not only the first Sunday of the season, but every other Sunday − or Monday, Thursday or Saturday − of the season.
"Weirdly enough, I know no one's going to believe this, but games are usually easier than practice because you're going against guys that know the snap count," Teller said. "They know what you're going to do, they know your set, they know your run block, they know how much weight you have on your hand. You go against really good D-tackles, they can do the same in the game but usually the guys that do that are the ones who are studying 12 hours a week to make sure they know all your tells, but practice is extremely hard and if you're doing well at practice, you're going to do well in the game 98 percent of the time. Very rarely are you good in practice and not good in the game."
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