By Tony Grossi
The way to defuse the Philadelphia Eagles’ vaunted “wide nine” pass rush is to run right through the heart of it. The Browns didn’t have the means to do it in their preseason meeting on Aug. 24 and were mauled up front.
That’s why the appearance on the practice field of rookie running back Trent Richardson was so heartening on Saturday.
For the first time, there was tangible evidence that the Browns’ first-round draft pick might – might – be available for the season opener Sept. 9 against the Eagles.
Richardson has not played in the preseason and has not practiced since Aug. 6. He complained that day of pain and swelling in the knee and spent the next day on a stationary bike. He was dispatched on Aug. 8 to Pensacola, Fla., to see Dr. James Andrews. The next day, Richardson had an arthroscopic procedure done by the noted sports surgeon.
The team reported Richardson had a tiny particle of loose cartilage removed from his left knee.
It was the same knee on which Andrews performed another surgery on Feb. 3 to repair a torn meniscus cartilage. ESPN reported Richardson’s second procedure technically was not related to the first one. The network also reported Richardson could be back in time to play one or two preseason games. But that didn’t happen.
Richardson did not practice on Saturday. He merely rode a stationary bike on the grass field with other wounded players. He wore a black wrap over the length of his left leg.
The question now is whether Richardson can make up for lost time, get in enough practice and play Sept. 9 – and for how long.
“He’s going to give it everything he’s got,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “This will be his first live activity. If he plays, he will be ready to go and play the whole game. We just have to be smart.”
Richardson was not made available to the media.
Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert both said they were “very optimistic” about what they’ve seen Richardson do “behind the scenes.” But they won’t specify exactly what that is, though Shurmur said Richardson “is running.”
“I watch him every day outside my window,” Heckert said. “He looks real good right now. He’s been working out and has had no setbacks whatsoever. That’s all I can tell you. He’s doing well.”
Heckert won’t rule out Richardson for next Sunday’s opener, even though he has not yet joined his teammates in practice. They are off on Sunday and then ramp up for Philadelphia with a light practice on Monday. Tuesday is another off day and Wednesday will be the only padded practice of the week.
Traditionally, players who have been out four weeks, as has Richardson, need a good two weeks of practice to return to playing form. But Heckert said traditions are out the window because of practice restrictions imposed by the new collective bargaining agreement.
“There’s no hitting,” Heckert said. “So I don’t know what practice does for you. We have one day of hitting. Now it’s running and learning the plays. The one day of padded practice, even that is different. The more (practice) would be better.
“This kid’s a little different cat now. I think he’s ready to go pretty quick compared to some people I’ve been around. And shape-wise, you do not have to worry about that at all. He’ll be able to do that.
“In a perfect world, yeah (two weeks of practice would be the norm), but I don’t think it’s a really big deal.”
The surgery was done on Richardson as a precaution. So you would think the Browns would proceed with caution and ease in their new meal ticket. But maybe not.
“What is the caution?” Heckert asked. “Is it five carries, six carries, 10, 15, 20? There’s not a book on it. Will he touch the ball 50 times? I doubt that’s gonna happen. If he’s ready to go, he’ll go. I know it’s not the best situation that he hasn’t played in the preseason. If he gets a week of practice in, we’ll see how he is.”
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