By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Mr. Bones: A half-hour after practice, Willis McGahee walked into the Browns locker room still shivering from a 15-minute session in the cold tub.
“These old bones aren’t 21 anymore,” he said, grabbing his shoulders with both hands.
Monday is normally a “spa day” in the NFL. But when you have a Thursday game, there is no time for your body to recover. Monday is jammed with game review, game plan preview and a light practice.
The turnaround from a Sunday game to a Thursday game is a challenge even for a young, healthy player. For a 31-year-old running back with three rebuilt ligaments in one knee and one healed ligament in the other, it is a brutal part of the job.
“Being a running back, you’re hit on every play,” McGahee said after Monday’s practice. “You’re gonna have more bumps and bruises than the norm. It’s a quick turnaround. The body’s used to resting after a Sunday. But we had to get out there. At the end of the day, you have to be a professional.”
McGahee didn’t play in a game for 10 months, and now has played in two in the span of 10 days since joining the Browns as Trent Richardson’s replacement.
As McGahee prepares for his third game Thursday against the Buffalo Bills – the team that drafted him in the first round in 2003 knowing he would miss that entire year because of a devastating knee injury in his last college game – it is obvious that he will be an integral player with the Browns.
“The leadership he’s bringing and the attitude he’s bringing to the offense, and to our team, I think has really helped our guys,” said coach Rob Chudzinski.
Nobody on the team knows McGahee better than Chudzinski, who was his offensive coordinator at University of Miami more than 10 years ago.
Winning them over: McGahee joined the Browns on the Friday before the Minnesota game. He was the front office’s choice to replace the traded Richardson. McGahee suited up and ran eight times for 9 yards in that 31-27 win. It wasn’t a memorable debut, but the fact he was able to even compete and give the coaches an option helped the cause.
McGahee vowed to be better in his second game after a full week’s work -- and he was. Sunday against Cincinnati, McGahee carried 15 times for 46 yards.
In the clinching, 91-yard touchdown drive, McGahee ran the ball six times for 33 yards, including a 9-, 5- and 9-yard back-breaking sequence at the end to set up a 1-yard TD pass to Chris Ogbonnaya.
“I think it showed them that I’m here to play,” McGahee said. “I ain’t Trent Richardson. But I’m here to play. I’m gonna just be Willis McGahee.
“That drive showed that we wanted it. We wanted to go out there and put it away. Our defense was playing lights out. It was our job to get on their level.”
In the locker room after the 17-6 win over Cincinnati, a game that moved the Browns into a three-way tie for first in the AFC North, McGahee emotionally accepted high-fives from teammates. It was a “Welcome to the team” moment.
“I think Willis, even though he’s been here only a week, he understands where the holes are,” said left tackle Joe Thomas. “Sometimes you just got to put your head down and run forward for 5-6 yards. Not every run has to be a home run. I think that’s a good understanding of the blocking schemes.
“When you get somebody that can get 5, 6, 7, 8 (yards) a crack, the coordinator’s just gonna keep dialing up runs. I think the line and the running backs did a nice job of finishing the game on that last drive with a physical running game.”
Been there, done that: McGahee has 8,152 rushing yards on his record, including 1,000-plus-yard seasons with Buffalo (two), Baltimore and Denver. Upon joining the Ravens and Broncos, he assumed integral roles on teams that made the playoffs.
The Browns are one of the youngest teams in the league. Their offense needed a few experienced players to show them the way. Davone Bess is one. Brian Hoyer is another. And now McGahee can make a mark.
“This reminds me of my first year in Denver (2011),” McGahee said. “ It was really a young team. We had Champ (Bailey), an older guy. I was one of them. (Brandon) Stokley was another. But it was really a younger team. That’s what I see in this team. It’s gonna click. It’s gonna happen.”
Chudzinski said McGahee “brings some of that swagger to us.”
“When you start winning, everybody’s swagger’s gonna change a little bit,” McGahee said. “I’m just easing into it. I’m not trying to be rah, rah, rah right off the bat. You have to earn that.”
On Monday, McGahee earned a trip to the sauna after his session in the cold tub. I expect McGahee will earn more than that before this season is over.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.comFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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