Running Success is a Team Effort

Reggie takes a look at an often-underappreciated part of the game: run blocking by wide receivers. This element of the game is a genuine focus for Browns head coach Butch Davis, and Reggie tells you why...

When you play with guys who dedicate themselves the way Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack did, you want to see them succeed. That's why, when we got down to the final game of the 1985 regular season and Earnest still needed quite a few yards to reach the 1,000 plateau, thus joining Kevin as one of the running back tandems in NFL history ever to reach that mark in a single season, we knew we had to give everything we had to make sure it happened.

Our offensive line did a tremendous job that year. Cody Risien, Mike Baab, Rickey Bolden, Paul Farren, Dan Fike and George Lilja all played significant roles in the success of the running game. The best running backs in the world cannot get yards unless the big guys up front create holes for them to run through. That is common knowledge. What most people don't see though, is the contribution that wide receivers make to the running game.

Wide receivers don't receive nearly the credit they deserve for their blocking skills. The only time they ever get noticed is when a running back breaks off a long run and you see a receiver throwing a block down field. Personally, I spent most of my rookie season in '85 throwing crack-back blocks. I played probably 40% of the time, and about 98% of the time it was to block.

It goes without saying that we didn't throw the ball very much in '85. In fact, I only caught one ball my rookie year and as a team we averaged less than 14 receptions per game. But the wide receivers definitely contributed a lot in the various blocking schemes. We all knew it was a team effort and, even though most of the accolades deservedly were sent in Earnest's and Kevin's direction, they couldn't have accomplished what they did without everyone doing their jobs. They were definitely appreciative of our efforts.

Effective downfield blocking does a lot more than just clear out the running lanes. Since every running play does not make it downfield, it doesn't mean that a wide receiver's efforts are without merit on the short gains.

In fact, good downfield blocking by the wide-outs also has the effect of allowing the running backs to fight for the extra yard without taking extra shots and impeding their progress.

How many times have you seen a defensive back run into the line with a full head of steam and knock the pile backward? Not only does this stop the forward progress, but the extra shots have a way of wearing down a guy and taking his legs out from under him as the game progresses.

It was probably a very good thing that the running game was as solid as it was because in 1985 we really had not yet established our passing game. We were a very young and inexperienced offense at that point. Brian Brennan, one of our starting receivers, was in just his second year in the NFL, while Clarence Weathers, who was in his first year with the team, was our other starter. Fred Banks and I were the primary backups and both of us were in our first year. Veteran Gary Danielson was the starter at quarterback to begin the year, but a rookie by the name of Bernie Kosar wound up taking the most snaps after Gary went down with an injury.

Our whole offense was built around the running game. It was no mystery what we were trying to do every game. Joe Pendry was the offensive coordinator that year. I doubt that a coach has ever loved the running game more than him.

In fact, we really didn't learn a whole lot about the passing game in the NFL until Lindy Infante came aboard as offensive coordinator the next year. Thankfully we were successful in helping Earnest get enough yams against the Jets that day in order to reach 1,000 yards. It seems even more remarkable now when you consider how tough it has been for the Browns as a team to gain 1,000 yards in any season since rejoining the league in 1999, and everybody in the league knew our gameplan back then.

As I look at this year's Browns team, one of the most significant things I see is the lack of holes for the running backs. Guys get hit the second they get to the line of scrimmage. There just isn't a whole lot of push from the big guys upfront. Right now, there isn't a whole lot of aggressiveness or cohesion on the offensive line as well. I know they've lost a few players due to injuries and they have taken a lot of heat not only this year, but in 1999 and 2000 as well.

But this is professional football and somebody has to step up and take it upon his shoulders to do better and pull another guy along as he steps up his game. We need to see the pile surge go in the opposite direction for a change. If nothing else, that will allow us to gain 2 or 3 yards instead of being stopped for 1 or no yards. We have to avoid second-and-9 or third-and-10 because obviously we are not very good in those situations.

It will be a long time until the new Browns come close to matching the running statistics we put up in 1985, but with a solid draft and by signing a couple of key free agent offensive linemen next year, we can take a significant step in that direction. Which in turn will make us a much better team. In the meantime, take a look down field and see how the wide receivers are supporting the running game. If nothing else, at least it will take your mind off the logjam at the line of scrimmage.


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