BEREA — Brian Mihalik considers himself a full-fledged offensive lineman.
He has two starts as proof.
Mihalik, an Avon Lake High School graduate, was the left tackle for the Detroit Lions the last two games, including Monday night on ESPN in a win over the Green Bay Packers. That’s noteworthy for anyone, especially someone who made the switch from defensive lineman less than two years ago.
“At this point, I’m an offensive lineman, so I’ve just got to put that factor of my past behind me and can’t use that as (a crutch),” he told The Chronicle-Telegram by phone Friday.
Browns left guard Joel Bitonio and center JC Tretter are impressed by the speed and ease of his transition. Mihalik (6-foot-9, 315 pounds) played defensive line for Boston College and was a seventh-round pick of the Eagles in 2015. The Steelers asked him to make the switch in the 2016 offseason.
“It shows how good an athlete he is,” Bitonio said.
Tretter was a late convert to the line, moving from tight end to left tackle in his junior year at Cornell.
“To do it at this level is really impressive, to be kind of learning on the fly and piecing together what you want to do,” he said. “And switching sides of the ball is even more impressive.”
The Browns face the Lions on Sunday in Detroit. The Lions will likely bring Taylor Decker off the physically unable to perform list Saturday and start him ahead of Mihalik, but coach Jim Caldwell said Friday the decision hadn’t been made. Decker was a first-round pick out of Ohio State last year and played every snap but missed the first eight games this year with a shoulder injury.
“We will see in terms of what happens in the game, but he has been playing well for us,” Caldwell said of Mihalik. “He is a tough, hard-nosed guy and he adapts well. He works at it.”
Mihalik, 25, faced Packers linebackers Nick Perry and Clay Matthews on Monday and held his own. He didn’t give up a sack, and Matthew Stafford threw for 361 yards and two touchdowns. Mihalik even corralled a deflected pass to make the statbook with a catch for minus-4 yards.
“I felt like I was able to play in the first game and then go back and look at the tape and work on what I need to correct and then came out the second game, worked on those things and just continue from here,” he said. “Anytime I get a chance to learn and get experience, just use it to my benefit.
“I don’t know that I can put a percentage or a number on it. It’s just the more reps I get and the more I’m able to work on it, I become more and more comfortable.”
If Mihalik gets the start vs. the Browns or is called upon at left tackle, he would face No. 1 pick Myles Garrett, who has four sacks in three games.
“He’s a good player and a good athlete,” Mihalik said. “But I’m more focused on the things that I need to work on and improving on my technique.”
He spent the offseason working on footwork and hand placement while also conditioning and lifting weights. He was with the Steelers throughout training camp but was waived in the final cuts. The Lions claimed him immediately.
With the position switch taken hold and a couple of starts on his resume, it feels like Mihalik has the potential for much more.
“Maybe. I don’t really look that far into the future, I just try to come in and work and find one or two little things every day I get better at and then just try to grow from there on a day-by-day process,” he said.
The drive from Avon Lake to Ford Field is only 2½ hours and Mihalik said he’ll have a “good amount” of family at the game. He was looking forward to the visit.
“Always nice to have family and see them after the game,” he said.