CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns were besieged by injuries and ineffectiveness on the offensive line during the 2016 season, and they sought to remedy that quickly at the start of the new National Football League year Thursday.
The Browns signed the top-rated guard in free agency, Kevin Zeitler, who in five years out of the University of Wisconsin, helped turn the Cincinnati Bengals into perennial playoff contenders out of the AFC North Division, which has two teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, with multiple Super Bowl victories to their credits.
“I think Kevin is one of the premier right guards in football,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “I’ve spent time with him before in Cincinnati. I believe he’s going to be a really good football player for us at a position of need, and I think he’ll do a great job.”
The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Zeitler has proven plenty durable, playing in 72 games, with 71 starts, over his five years in the NFL.
In five seasons behind Zeitler’s blocks, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton completed 1,620 of his 2,544 yards for 18,816 yards and 122 touchdowns and 68 interceptions.
Zeitler joins an offensive line that was besieged by injuries, especially at the guard position, during the 2016 season.
Joel Bitonio played in the first five games of the season, but was forced to the sideline for the remainder of the year because of a Lisfranc injury in his right foot that required surgery in mid-October. Later in the year, guard John Greco suffered a similar injury.
Even when Bitonio was in the starting lineup, the Browns were without three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, both of whom left the organization in free agency for the Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively.
Last season, the Browns surrendered 66 sacks for 309 lost yards, and their top three starters suffered through at least 18 sacks each in limited play behind an offensive line that lost two starters, Bitonio and Greco, to injuries.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III missed 11 games because of injury, but still took a team-high 22 sacks for 138 yards, while rookie Cody Kessler endured 21 sacks for 140 lost yards and suffered a pair of concussions in a month. Veteran Josh McCown was sacked 18 times for 126 lost yards.
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