CLEVELAND -- Replacing a legendary player is never easy, but that is the task Spencer Drango has as the Cleveland Browns head across the Atlantic Ocean to face the Minnesota Vikings at Twickenham Stadium in London as part of the 2017 NFL International Series.
Drango has started games in the National Football League before, but his first career start at left tackle will come in place of 10-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Joe Thomas, who suffered a season-ending triceps injury in last Sunday’s 12-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“Just go out there and do my best, stay calm and play as hard as I can for the guys around me,” Drango said of his mindset.
The Browns selected Drango out of Baylor University with the 168th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Behind Drango’s blocks, the Bears averaged 48.1 points, 326.7 rushing yards and 289.5 passing yards per game during the 2015 season. The Bears’ offense scored 625 points, rushed for 4,247 yards and passed for another 3,764 yards. Also, Baylor rushed for 41 touchdowns and threw for another 44 scores.
Projected as a right tackle in the NFL, Drango cleared the way for two 1,000-yard rushers, as Shock Linwood led the Bears with 1,329 yards and 10 touchdowns on 196 carries, while junior running back Johnny Jefferson gained 1,000 yards and scored eight times in 2015.
“I was at left tackle all of my years at Baylor,” said Drango, a two-time Big 12 Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year.
“A lot of practice just at everything. Being here last year, starting at guard helped me with the guard positions. Early on in the season last season, I was learning tackle, so just cumulatively looking over everything and knowing it. Just practicing every position and going on scout team at every position, that is what it takes.”
In addition to taking Thomas’ place at left tackle, which he did in the loss to the Titans, Drango must continue developing chemistry with his fellow blockers, particularly left guard Joel Bitonio.
“Some of the times Joe didn’t practice and he had a vet day, I would be at left tackle,” Drango said. “I have reps next to Joel, so the chemistry is there. We are still building it, obviously, but we should be able to build it more this weekend.”
And as for his emotions heading into the game, Drango plans on using them in a positive way.
“All of the above -- excited, nervous, all of them,” Drango said. “I think it is good to be nervous. Even Joe told us he still got nervous before games. It is something that I think it is important to be a little. You have to embrace it and use that as fuel.”
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