Browns’ undrafted rookie to start at left tackle

BEREA, Ohio — Months ago, Desmond Harrison was confident he’d replace Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas.

The Browns only realized it in the past few days.

An undrafted rookie with a checkered past, Harrison will open the season as Cleveland’s starting left tackle — a position held down by Thomas, a future Hall of Famer, for more than a decade — today against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I’m replacing Joe, so I know how big it is,” Harrison said.

It’s a remarkable jump for Harrison, who last season was pile-driving players at Division II Georgia State after not playing for three years following his dismissal at Texas.

To Harrison, it’s just football on a larger stage.

“It’s a big leap,” Harrison said Friday after coach Hue Jackson announced yet another transformation to his offensive line. “Kind of more people at the game, stuff like that. So that’s probably like the only difference.”

Well, there’s also blocking Cam Heyward and the other Steelers, who led the NFL with 57 sacks a season.

But you gotta admire the rookie’s swagger.

Harrison’s ascension up the depth chart is the latest wrinkle up front for the Browns, who have been tinkering with the left side of their offensive line for weeks. The team recently slid left guard Joel Bitonio to tackle and plugged rookie Austin Corbett in at guard.

However, after four preseason games, Jackson and his coaching staff didn’t like the line’s makeup. Determined to put the “best five guys on the field,” the Browns decided to go with the 6-foot-6, 305-pound Harrison who looks like he was engineered in a laboratory for left tackles.

“He looks like a left tackle in this league,” Bitonio said.

Jackson said the 24-year-old Harrison has played like one.

“He is very talented,” Jackson said. “He has earned it. He competed. When you put all of the different variables out there of what we could have done or would have done, and you look at it and you watch the practice tape and the game, he is the best left tackle for us to play right now.

“Obviously, Joel is the best left guard. We feel like we are heading in the right direction by far. I agonized over this decision because it is a huge decision. At the same time, I have confidence one, in our coaches, and in the player. He has worked hard. He wants this opportunity. He has demonstrated that.”

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