It took a team of more than fifty people to guide the 2020 Cleveland Browns to their first playoff win in 26 years. One of those people was a person who Baker Mayfield credited as “a guy named Blake”. That guy, offensive lineman Blake Hance, just went from practice squad journeyman to a solid fixture in Cleveland.
The saga of Blake Hance
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According to The Athletic’s Greg Auman, the Cleveland Browns have signed one-time emergency replacement guard Blake Hance to a two-year extension. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.
The Browns are the fifth NFL team that Hance suited up for in the span of two seasons, yet the first he played an actual game for. If any player summed up the “last man standing” nature of the 2020 NFL season, it was Hance.
Out of Northwestern, Hance went undrafted in 2019. He signed with the Buffalo Bills but was cut after only a month. His next stop was Washington, where he spent training camp and preseason before being waived. He spent the rest of the 2019 season on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad.
In September, he came to the New York Jets’ practice squad. It looked like he’d spent the rest of the year there before a rash of injuries in Cleveland changed his fortunes.
“A guy named Blake”
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Blake Hance ascended into Cleveland Browns legend at the very end of the NFL season. On January 2nd, the day before the Browns’ regular-season finale against Pittsburgh, the Browns signed Hance from the Jets’ practice squad. They had little choice, as their offensive line was racked by both injury and illness.
The Browns won that game in a squeaker to clinch their first playoff berth since 2002. This meant they earned a rematch with the Steelers for the following week in the AFC wild-card game.
Late in the game, starting left guard Michael Dunn suffered a calf injury, forcing Hance into action for the first time in his career. According to the Akron Beacon-Journal, Hance played the final 14 snaps in the Browns’ 48-37 win. His performance was even more impressive, as he went face-to-face with the Steelers’ Pro Bowl defensive lineman Cameron Heyward.
“A guy named Blake that I introduced myself to literally right before the game stepped up,” said quarterback Baker Mayfield in a postgame interview.
What’s next for Blake?
Regular left guard Joel Bitonio returned for the Browns’ next game, a 22-17 loss to Kansas City in the divisional round. Bitonio had spent the wild-card game on the COVID-19 list.
It remains to be seen whether Hance’s new deal ensures him a starting role next season for Cleveland. However, given the amount of movement on NFL rosters as well as the unpredictability of the pandemic, it’s doubtful that anyone on the Browns’ offensive line will start all 16 regular-season games. Hance will probably see some playing time for Cleveland next season at least in a reserve role.