A few players are getting some extra work in. Alex Smith catches passes off the juggs gun. After one hits the ground, he is ribbed by James Dockery for failing to look the ball into his hands, the very thing he is supposed to be working on.
In a small huddle off to the side of a practice field, the offensive line finishes up together and make their way back. Joe Thomas is assigned a spot to sign autographs on this day. Shawn Lauvao makes it back to the building without hearing a group of youngsters chant his name. His name isn’t easy to chant in four syllables, but doubtful that’s the real reason he wasn’t targeted by the boys.
He’s an offensive lineman, and not a high profile one at that. He’s a guard. But if the Browns offense, including Weeden, Little and Richardson are going to have success this season, Lauvao’s side of the line, the right side, will have to be much improved over last year.
A big part of that hoped for improvement, as has beendetailedat length, is the addition of Mitchell Schwartz. Drafted in the second round, Schwartz has been penciled in at the starting RT spot since the draft. But don’t overlook Lauvao, who has done all he can to improve himself and prepare for the year to come.
Lauvao, along with fellow starting guard Jason Pinkston were two of four Browns offensive linemen to attend the LeCharles Bentley O-Line Academy in the off-season. For many high schoolers or college players, the camp may be a one time thing. But not for Shawn- “No, no it’s a continuous thing. LeCharles is a big mentor of mine. Anytime I can get any insight, any wisdom from him I’m all for it.”
For pro linemen, the academy’s purpose is as follows-
“As offensive linemen, career longevity is key to career success. This is a complete contradiction to the harsh world of a collision sport, as offensive lineman repetition is the way proper development takes place. Many great linemen have waited three to four years before developing into starters. It is often said that offensive linemen are like wine, they get better over time. This doesn’t mean that waiting around for “your turn” guarantees success. Unfortunately, the NFL doesn’t offer four-year scholarships with an option to “redshirt.” The objective is to get better fast, stay healthy and get paid. From the day you are drafted or added to an NFL roster, the clock on your career begins to tick.
The L. Bentley O-Line Academy is the place where you will have the opportunity to take your game and career to the next level. Our goal is to develop you into the healthiest, most functionally explosive, and technically sound player on the roster.”
But what do they do? Is it more drills like at camp? Is it conditioning?
“Everything is more functional from an offensive linemen standpoint.” says Lauvao. “Everything he pours into us is everything he’s gone through, everything he’s done is what helped him get to the level that he was at. Me, Jason (Pinkston), Shaw (Jarrod Shaw), Dom (Dominic Alford) we were all out there working together. So it builds camaraderie, but at the same time you get that competition, and that builds camaraderie too.”
Lauvao most certainly came into camp in the best shape of his life.
Jason Pinkston was a player that the Browns were concerned about over the off-season. Pat Shurmur talked about him in his post-practice press conference yesterday. He said his final words to Pinkston before they headed out for the off-season were “Get your body right.” Those words must have stuck with Pinkston through the workouts with Shawn and LeCharles. After the team reported, Pinkston tweeted how thankful he was to have passed his conditioning test. The first person to respond to his tweet? Lauvao. Reminding him that he barely passed.
This year things are a lot different for Shawn and Jason. Last season they were fighting for a roster spot, and a starting position. Pinkston was a rookie and Lauvao was fighting for his first starting spot as a second year player. They both started from week one (in no small part because of an injury to Eric Steinbach), and improved as the season progressed. So much so that the Browns were willing to release Steinbach from his contract, seemingly handing the starting jobs back to Pinkston and Lauvao.
With that experience in their pockets, you would think they would be a whole lot more comfortable heading into camp. Not so if you ask Lauvao-
“No, You’re never comfortable man, my mindset is I’m always trying to make the team. You always want to go out there and give a good product.”
Still, camp has to have a different feel or tone-
“The one thing is having an understanding of how you want to do things, whether it’s taking care of your body or whether it’s a scheme or just an overall understanding. There’s a lot more urgency to how you do things. There’s a purpose behind everything you do.”
Urgency. Purpose. A sense of focus perhaps to becoming a better player, a better teammate and building a career.
This year, the rookie starter is lining up beside him. So what does Lauvao think of Mitchell Schwartz? How does he think he will do?
“Mitch has a ton of upside, he’s another Cal guy like Alex so I call him rocket scientist. He’s a real smart guy. He knows the x’s and o’s of the offense. The one thing is just learning the technical stuff, and you just get that with experience.”
We had the opportunity to spend the draft with Shawn at our event with Two Bucks in Middleburg Heights. That night we watched Lauvao’s reaction to the Browns’ draft picks. He was very excited when the Browns selected Trent Richardson, but you didn’t have to be an expert in body language to see that Lauvao was stunned when the Browns used a first round selection on Brandon Weeden.
Now, after seeing Weeden up close for weeks, what does he think of the new signal caller?
“He’s got an arm. Brandon can definitely throw the ball. He’s an older cat, so he’s been around the blocks. The one thing with him, is he has that sense of urgency. You grow as a player with experience. I wish him the best for this season, and we’ll make sure we have everything together.”
Urgency. Focus. Making sure that the right side of the line has “everything together” to make the team a success.
If that comes to pass, school kids will continue to shout names of Cleveland’s quarterbacks and wide receivers. Including Weeden.
But likely not Shawn Lauvao.
It’s just a weird name to chant in four syllables.