Blake Hance — “a guy named Blake” — found himself in a big spot on Sunday night, and he delivered.
The previously unknown offensive lineman received deserved attention Tuesday for his play in Cleveland’s wild-card win over Pittsburgh. Signed to the team’s active roster out of dire need in Week 17, Hance didn’t see the field until Sunday night, when backup-turned-emergency-starter Michael Dunn exited the game due to injury, forcing Hance into action.
He was so new to the Browns — who hadn’t practiced but once in the week leading up to the wild-card game due to the club’s persistent COVID-19 issues — he hadn’t even met the quarterback he’d be protecting until right before the game. Baker Mayfield said after the win he’d introduced himself to Hance in the locker room prior to the game, referring to him as “a guy named Blake” in a memorable postgame sound byte. Hance corroborated the story during a Tuesday appearance on NFL NOW.
“We got one practice in last week,” Hance told NFL Network’s Andrew Siciliano. “But with all the COVID going around, obviously everyone was staying very far apart from each other, we didn’t even go in the locker room or anything. So there’s a ton of guys that I didn’t really get a chance to meet yet.
“Saw Baker in the locker room before the game, so we got a chance to quickly meet. But then Michael Dunn, he played a really great game. He stepped up big time in his first start. And so I was bummed for him to see him go down. Didn’t really have much time to think about it before running out there.”
It’s not often a fringe player like Hance, who had spent his first two NFL years on four practice squads, can see when his number is about to be called. The situation doesn’t get any easier when you have to go face a Pro Bowl defensive lineman like Cameron Heyward. But Hance answered the call, playing 14 snaps in the final minutes of a still-undecided postseason contest and faring well enough in the pass-blocking department to help the Browns win their first playoff game since the 1994 season (for those wondering, Hance was born in 1996).
“It’s what you want,” Hance said of facing Heyward. “It’s why you do it. I’ve been going to work for two years on practice squads. You’re always hoping for that opportunity. In this league, every time you line up, you’re going against somebody like that who’s a great player.”
The Browns should get Joel Bitonio back from the reserve/COVID-19 list this week, but with Dunn landing on injured reserve due to the aforementioned injury, they could call on Hance again. At least this time, his quarterback will know him better than a brief pregame introduction.
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