By Tony Grossi
Extra Points …
Eureka!: The Browns quietly reached a milestone during their 7-6 win over San Diego on Sunday. They completed a pass to a fullback for the first time this year. Sad but true.
It happened on Brandon Weeden’s first pass of the game, second play from scrimmage. The quarterback play-faked, and as he turned and set his sights on the fullback flaring out to the right, there wasn’t the usual murmur from the home crowd.
It was Alex Smith playing fullback instead of Owen Marecic.
Smith caught the pass for a mere 1-yard gain. But the fact he did catch it was noteworthy. Marecic had been 0 for 4 on those same short routes, dropping each one, draining ounces of energy from the team and stadium.
It looks now as if the Browns have had enough. Marecic was a healthy scratch on Sunday. Smith appears to be the new fullback going forward.
All about the leverage: “I wanted to get Alex back on the field,” coach Pat Shurmur said on Monday. “I wanted to have a defined role for him because I think he brings some energy to our team.”
The Browns throw to the fullback only as a second or third pass option, so dropping 1- or 2-yard flareouts wasn’t the only reason Marecic was benched. The fullback has to lead block for Trent Richardson, primarily on short-yardage plays. This has been a problem for the Browns all year, whether it was Richardson hitting the wrong hole or Marecic missing the block.
Smith said he was told last Monday that he would work all week in practice as the fullback. “I definitely think there’s a chemistry involved in there (with Richardson),” he said. “That’s what I concentrated on at practice, seeing what he was seeing, getting that feedback from him.”
In the game, Richardson converted the first third-and-1, zipping over left tackle for 11 yards, but that was out of the three-receiver formation with Weeden in the shotgun.
On the second third-and-1, Weeden tried to catch the Chargers unawares with a quick snap and Richardson was stymied for no gain. Later in the game, another third-and-1 resulted in a 2-yard loss for Richardson. So there is work to be done. No way should Richardson not be able to gain a single yard when needed.
At 6-4, Smith is an unconventional fullback, to be sure, four inches taller than Marecic.
“One of the things I noticed watching the film today is I definitely need to get lower,” Smith said. “It’s just getting used to playing the position again. It’s so much different than playing tight end. I’ve got a good feel for it and will just keep working on it.”
Bringing the energy: Marecic is so introverted, he gave off the vibe of an isolated soul among 10 teammates on the field. Smith is more rah-rah.
“Emotion helps you, sure,” Shurmur said. “I’m not saying you can’t be a quiet guy and block. But I like emotion.”
Smith, a Stanford guy like Marecic, got into it with the officials when he called them on mistakenly allowing a Chargers timeout after they were caught with 12 defenders on the field. He was hotter about it than the Browns coaches. The Chargers should have been penalized.
“That’s something I’m going to do every game,” Smith said. “When I’m in there, I’m really into it – whether it’s talking to a ref or encouraging guys on the sideline, whatever it takes to be that energy spark guys need.”
Smith lined up in front of Richardson on the 26-yard touchdown run that proved to be the game-winner.
“It was funny,” he said. “That’s the play I ended up blocking three or four different people because it was one of those scrambling plays. Trent did a great job getting it through and had a little assist from the O-linemen.”
Smith marveled at the way Richardson ran the ball with still-sore ribs.
“I was excited just watching Trent run the ball,” Smith said. “That was really inspirational, as banged up as he was. I think he really lifted the whole team. Everybody fed off of his energy.”
Yes, energy. That’s what it’s all about in the Jimmy Haslam era now, isn’t it? He’s in the energy business. Richardson brings energy. And Smith as a blocker does, too.
|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 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.com
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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