By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Position of change: No position on the Browns has been more eventful this summer than running back.
It started with questions about Trent Richardson’s availability. It’s ending with Richardson being the only sure thing in the backfield.
No. 2 back Montario Hardesty was in and out of practice and then knocked out for good when he dislocated a thumb fielding an errant snap in a Wildcat drill, and then had more knee surgery. On Tuesd ay, Hardesty was placed on injured reserve, ending his season and probably his Browns career because his contract is up.
(Hardesty joins a long list of Browns second-round draft picks who bombed --Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi, David Veikune, Brodney Pool, Chaun Thompson, Andre Davis, Quincy Morgan, Rahim Abdullah. And that’s just in the expansion era. Although there have been some successes, such as Josh Gordon, Mitchell Schwartz, Jabaal Sheard and D’Qwell Jackson. Somewhere in the middle are Greg Little and T.J.Ward.)
No. 3 back Chris Ogbonnaya, a versatile, jack-of-all-trades and special teams core player, acquired yet another role – lead-blocking fullback.
No. 4 back Dion Lewis wowed the coaches in the early going, sending coordinator Norv Turner to the archives to review plays previously written for Darren Sproles in San Diego, and then broke his leg in the second preseason game. He was put on season-ending injured reserve.
No. 5 back Brandon Jackson, a Tom Heckert free agent signee injured his first season and unused his second, was re-signed by the new regime as an insurance policy and then, through circumstances, ascended to possibly Richardson’s top backup.
No. 1 fullback Owen Marecic, once hailed by Stanford-turned-49ers coach Jim Harbaugh as one of the greatest players he’s ever seen, lost his job as the lead blocker to the 225-pound Ogbonnaya, and then lost his roster spot. He was cut on Tuesday.
Getting him ready: Through it all, one of the top priorities of Rob Chudzinski’s first training camp was to manage Richardson to be in the best possible health for the start of the season. Mission accomplished.
It was Chudzinski who suggested Richardson lose about 12 pounds to get down to his Alabama playing weight of 225. Chudzinski mapped out the meticulous plan to protect Richardson from risk of injury at practice. When that failed and Richardson took a kick to the right shin that was injured in May, Chudzinski pulled him out practice and the first preseason game. Richardson got in two solid, if brief, appearances in preseason, and most likely will be kept out of the final JV game Thursday in Chicago.
“It’s been since ‘Bama (that I felt this good),” Richardson said Tuesday. “It’s been a long time. I feel real light on my feet. That’s a good thing.
“Last year I probably played at 236, 237 and wasn’t able to run through the week due to injury. This year I’m gonna try my hardest to be at 225 the whole year.”
Despite seemingly being in and out this summer, Richardson believes the timing with his offensive line, which never materialized last year, has been refined.
“I feel I’m doing fine, especially with our offensive line,” he said. “These guys have made a big impact on me over the last few weeks than they did all last year. That’s being a team, a family, our chemistry. We joke together. We do a lot of stuff together. We keep our vibe going at all times. I’m just happy about what success we have had among ourselves. Just trying to build a chemistry and a family.”
High hopes: Richardson has been energized by the new coaching staff ever since he met Turner for the first time and heard him say, “You know, I had Emmitt Smith.”
The NFL all-time rushing champion preceded Richardson at Escambia High School in Pensacola, FL. Turner’s words came across as a challenge to Richardson to prepare for a heavy workload.
Despite being frustrated with the conservative training camp plan to keep him healthy, Richardson has bought in completely to the Chudzinski-Turner regime.
“Oh, yeah, and I felt that early on,” he said. “Players (are) just battling at all times. We didn’t have that last year. I hate to keep comparing the team to last year. But that’s something we need.
“From where I came from, that’s all I knew was to compete and battle and make each other better. Now we have that and the team’s in the right direction and we’re vibing with the coach and we’re having fun with the coach and he’s a player’s coach and he’s got different head coaches around him that know the game and are teaching him at the same time. So it’s a lot of fun and a lot of building in this whole environment that we have going on.”
The way the running back position has evolved this summer, more than ever, everything rests on the broad, muscular shoulders of No. 33.
“I know this year, I’m not even looking towards any injury, no broken fingernails or nothing,” he said. “I know my whole season is based on being healthy and playing 16 games, and hopefully in the playoffs. That’s what we’re trying to get to.”
|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 firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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