By Ryan Lewis
Beacon Journal sports writer
Three offensive linemen on the Browns have started every game for the past two years. The first two are easy to name: left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack.
The third? Guard Shawn Lauvao, who’s almost always had his name attached to competition at his position. That might still be true even now with three players vying for two spots. But Lauvao’s had his name in the starting lineup at right guard for 32 games in a row. Holding a starting gig with his competition looming in the background is the norm.
“Since I’ve been here, it’s always been like that,” Lauvao said after a training camp practice at the Browns’ training facility in Berea. “With anything, you take it with a grain of salt, you use it as motivation. I’ll just do my job and whatever the coaches decide, they’ll decide.”
Lauvao, a third-round pick in 2010 who’s entering his fourth season, has been with the first-team offense at right guard during camp.
John Greco has been at left guard with the first unit. Greco recently signed a five-year deal worth up to $14 million, including incentives, so he presumably has the inside track there.
Jason Pinkston has been with the second-team offense at both guard spots. Pinkston started last season on the left side until doctors discovered a blood clot in his leg that moved to his lung. Until that life-threatening condition, Pinkston had started the first 22 games of his career. He spent this offseason trying to lose some of the weight he gained while spending six months on the blood thinner Coumadin, which forced changes to his diet and routine.
Pinkston has said that he wants to break back into the starting lineup, and that with a new coaching staff, “No one’s job is safe.” Blood clot aside, Pinkston’s started every Sunday in the fall, and Greco has his new deal.
But then there’s Lauvao. He’s still fighting and trying to prove right guard isn’t a weak spot on the offensive line.
“In my mind, it is my position,” Lauvao said. “They’ll have to take it from me.”
There aren’t enough starting jobs to go around. Someone is going to lose and be relegated to a backup role. It’s a common and understood hazard of the NFL.
“Me, Jason and John are really good friends,” Lauvao said. “Like anything, we’re professional about it. We try to figure things out together, and we’ll have our discussions.”
Greco echoed Lauvao’s sentiments when asked if friendships are changed through competition for the same spot.
“To me, no, you can’t let that happen,” Greco said. “It’s a business. We’re out here playing a game, trying to help the team win. We’re still friendly no matter what. It makes for a better work environment. You still compete every day, that’s the thing. Everyone knows that. That’s the nature of this game. But there’s no hard feelings.”
The potential for the Browns to have one of the NFL’s stronger offensive lines is there. Thomas is a potential Hall of Famer at left tackle. Mack is an above-average center, and Mitchell Schwartz is expected to take a leap forward at right tackle in his second NFL season. Along with those three, Greco and Lauvao, the same offensive line started the final 10 games of 2012 together. Now the work is being put in heading into the 2013 season.
“We’re in the building a lot longer,” Lauvao said, smiling, when asked what the main difference between training camp has been this year and last. “I’d say the hours are longer. Everything has a purpose and we’re being productive.”
This would a good time for Lauvao to be productive. He’s in the final year of his rookie contract, so a payday could be on the horizon.
Thomas and Schwartz aren’t going anywhere soon. Greco was just signed for five seasons. If Mack, who’s also in the final year of his contract but in a more secure position, and Lauvao can secure multi-year deals, the offensive line in Cleveland could have as much stability as any in the NFL.
But until that time, Lauvao has to keep playing with the cloud of competition over his head as he quietly checks into the starting lineup each week, just like he has the past two seasons.
Single-game tickets to the Browns’ Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the Miami Dolphins sold out 28 minutes after they went on sale Tuesday, the team announced. The Browns also sold all of their single-game seats to the Nov. 24 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers later in the day.
Seats to those games are still available through season tickets or another ticket package. According to the Browns, their season-ticket renewal rate is at 94 percent, with the NFL average at 90 percent.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.