BEREA - Eric Steinbach couldn't help but crack a smile when it was mentioned that he's a finesse offensive lineman.
"I always laugh when people say finesse when you're talking offensive linemen," the Browns left guard said. "I don't know how you can survive in this league, especially on the inside, as finesse."
Whether he's using finesse or brute strength, Steinbach is playing as well as at any time during his eight-year career. He's a big part of a group effort up front that's produced a ground game that's picked up where it left off late last season.
Last year at this time, Steinbach was a lightning rod for criticism. It started when coach Eric Mangini admitted that he wanted Steinbach to add weight. Steinbach usually started a season in the 290-pound vicinity but weighed significantly less by the end of the year.
It became an assumption that Mangini wasn't pleased with Steinbach's performance level. If there was something wrong with the line, Steinbach had to be one of the problems.
"Every coach is different," Steinbach said. "Coaches in the past never really addressed it (his weight), but coach Mangini did address it, and I agreed with him. In '08, I missed a couple of games because I was banged up. I said if I put on 10 pounds maybe that would solidify me a little more as far as preventing injuries."
There hasn't been much to like about the Browns in the first three games. An exception has been the line, which has paved the way for an average of 116.7 rushing yards a game. Peyton Hillis rushed for 144 yards last Sunday against a Baltimore Ravens defense known for its ability to stop ground games.
"As long as they're playing you honest, but if they have nine in the box you have to throw the ball," left tackle Joe Thomas said. "For us, we need to establish the run every week. If we can do that, I think we're going to have a great chance to win."
The offense in the last four games of last season and in the first three games of this season has taken a chapter from the playbook of the late Woody Hayes, who never devised a run play he didn't like. Part of it is by design and part of it is because the offense lacks a proficient passing game.
That's what makes the success Jerome Harrison had late last season and Hillis had last week so hard to figure out. Defenses know what's coming, yet the offense has been able to move the ball well on the ground.
"We have really high expectations for our running game," Thomas said. "I think it doesn't matter who we play, whether it's the Ravens, the Steelers, the Ravens - top run defenses in the NFL - we expect to be able to run the ball, no matter who's on the line or what running back is in."
The style is a lineman's dream.
"If the coaches told us at the beginning of the week that we're going to get 30-plus carries, that's a game you tighten up your chin strap and get ready to play," Steinbach said. "It doesn't always work out like that."
Eventually the offense will need to establish a passing threat. As well as the Browns moved the ball on the ground against the Ravens, they still managed just 17 points.
"Let's just say that if you don't have the down-the-field going as of now, the receivers can help out with blocking," Steinbach said. "If defenses want to put eight or nine guys in the box, that just means our receivers and tight ends are going to have to do an excellent job of blocking the secondary guys. It's not like they're going to totally shut us down and make us one-dimensional."
That's the way it's looked to this point.