- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 30, 2011

BEREA, OHIO (AP) - The sturdy left side of Cleveland’s offensive line has developed a massive hole.

Guard Eric Steinbach’s season is over.

The steady Steinbach, who hasn’t missed a snap in two years at left guard, was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, hours after undergoing surgery to repair a bulging back disk. Steinbach’s back stiffened up during practice two weeks ago, and when it didn’t respond to treatments, the eight-year veteran opted for surgery.

Browns coach Pat Shurmur said Steinbach’s operation went well, but the Browns had no choice but put him on IR, a major loss for their offense.

“He’s been incredibly durable,” said Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas, who has lined up for 62 of his 64 career games alongside Steinbach. “He’s been a huge asset to our offense, so it is a big blow not having him out there.”

Cleveland’s left side is arguably the NFL’s finest with Steinbach sandwiched between Thomas, a four-time Pro Bowler, and center Alex Mack, chosen to go to Hawaii last year following his second season as a pro. Steinbach’s loss will not only hurt the Browns’ running game and ability to protect quarterback Colt McCoy, but it may force Shurmur to start rookie Jason Pinkston up front in the Sept. 11 season opener against Cincinnati.

“I wouldn’t presume anything right now,” Shurmur said, “but if we were playing a game tomorrow, that’s what we would probably do.”

Shurmur indicated the Browns would explore other options, especially with teams trimming their rosters before Saturday’s deadline to get to 53.

“There’s a lot of things that get done now in the next 48 or 72 hours,” he said.

Replacing Steinbach won’t be easy.

The 31-year-old has been rock-solid since joining the Browns in 2007 as a free agent after playing four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. He made 65 consecutive starts before missing two games in 2008, but was out there for every play the past two years under coach Eric Mangini.

Steinbach’s quickness allowed the Browns to use him on sweeps, and his outside, pulling blocks helped Peyton Hillis rush for nearly 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.

Thomas hates to lose his left-side partner, but in this league there’s no time for sympathy.

“It’s the next-man-in mentality,” Thomas said. “We’ve gotta have somebody step up there. Hopefully it’ll be Pinkston.”

A fifth-round pick who played left tackle at Pittsburgh, Pinkston has already been thrown into the pool’s deep end. Now, he has to keep himself afloat.

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