It appears that the step from the NCAA to the NFL is taking some time for first-round draft choice Alex Mack. If you have been able to attend one of the recent team minicamp sessions, you may have seen Mack either running laps or being told why the defensive lineman had just blown past him.
Now, to be fair, Mack has had his moments in the spotlight. First and foremost is a reported pancake block on Pro Bowl defensive lineman Shaun Rogers. Blocking Rogers at all is a task, but to knock him on his backside is even more deserving of a helmet slap.
But if anyone thought that Mack would just be handed the starting center spot simply because he was a first-round selection, they would most definitely be wrong.
As Lane Adkins reports in his Day Five recap:
As rookie center Alex Mack develops, he is the heir-apparent to replace Hank Fraley, but at the present time the rookie has done nothing to grab the spot from a veteran, much less earn the opportunity.
While this may be a bit discouraging, and could even force some fans to fear a Vernon Gholston-like season right out of the gate, there is no denying that Mack is working hard every day to earn his place on this team; something that has been needed for quite some time and is a definite change from the past regime that had ties to its veteran players regardless of production.
Don Delco came through yesterday with a pretty solid reference, likening Mack (and a few of his teammates) to Willie Mays Hayes from Major League. If you recall, it got to a point where every time Willie would pop the ball up in batting practice, he would immediately drop to the ground and do 20 push-ups…
Yesterday, Browns rookie center Alex Mack did his best impression of Willie Mays Hayes as reported by the Repository’s Steve Doerschuk. Mack got everybody’s attention after he fouled up a snap. Mack left the huddle immediately, chugged around the perimeter of the field at a driving pace and ran all the way back into the huddle.
Is the fact that he is having a rough transition to the professional level a bit troubling? Sure. But the drive is there and one of Eric Mangini’s big “turn-ons” with Mack was his work ethic. While other rookies are still looking for their pay day, Mack is in camp and is getting every snap he can to work in to that starting offensive line.
Since their return in 1999, the center position for the Cleveland Browns can be defined by two specific moments: The team selecting Jim Pyne as the first player overall in the expansion draft, and the first play of the 2006 minicamp that would ultimately end the career of LeCharles Bentley.
What followed the Bentley injury was a series of events that couldn’t even be made up if one tried. Back-up center Bob Hallen, who would have been the default starter, simply decided to leave camp without any discussion with the coaching staff. Needing a center, the team signed Todd Washington. Eight days later, Washington announced his retirement. One week later, Hallen would do the same. Adding insult to injury, last minute addition and then-starting center Alonzo Ephraim was suspended for four games for substance abuse.
Ross Tucker and Lennie Friedman then joined the revolving door of centers until the team was able to trade for Fraley, who has been starting ever since.
Fraley has not exactly been awful, but as can be surmised, the Browns have been looking for an anchor in the middle of their offensive line for quite some time. Now if Mack does not end up starting for this team, George Kokinis and Eric Mangini will have some explaining to do given the team’s dire need for starting calibur players. But for now, let’s see if the kid can earn it. Here’s hoping that Mack can not only be said anchor, but for a long, long time – alleviating any further chapters to the center soap opera that has been prevalent in Cleveland for all too long.