The cat is out of the bag... the Browns are not happy with their running back position.
TheOBR has heard whispers going back to the OTA sessions that the organization was not happy with the "complete" look at the running back position. Those whispers had grown louder by the day, until head coach Mike Pettine and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery addressed the position with the media recently.
The reality for the Browns isn’t what they said to the media - which was minimal — it’s what they are saying and doing behind the scenes while also investigating the options in training camp.
In a football world where competitiveness, productivity and cost factor don’t always meet, the Browns are waging a preemptive strike to improve their position. Lighting a fire under those running backs in camp is Step One.
Without further ado, this is “What We’ve Been Told":
- The organization is very disappointed with the hamstring injury suffered by rookie RB Duke Johnson. The staff has high expectations for Johnson in the offensive scheme and the injury is looked at as a setback just in the short-term... but a setback nonetheless. Johnson’s explosive qualities on the practice field raised the bar for all the RBs within a stable of young players.
“When you see a young guy like Johnson on the field, you get excited, especially when he’s a high character young man full of energy and explosiveness — which is something we have lacked here. As well as his skill-set enabling our offense to do more things creatively, his ability also raises the bar for everybody else around him, from an offensive standpoint to the immediate position group — you see guys work, push to improve, that’s the competitive aspect of having guys like him, a Joe Thomas and a Joe Haden — it’s competitive which leads to improvement.”
- Within the organization there is a sense of unease with the RB depth chart. Heading into the off-season, the Browns had a detailed plan (physical and mental awareness improvement) for Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell, Glenn Winston and Shaun Draughn. With each player an issue has arisen, some which is directly due to player responsibility — or in better words, a lack of overwhelming commitment.
“Football isn’t a part-time job and some players fail to realize the ongoing commitment in what being in this game means. The shelf-life can be very short here, especially for a RB due to the vast number of men working everyday just to get a look, an opportunity. We have a couple guys here that are 100% committed, not just physically, but mentally, which is as important, if not more so. Too many mental mistakes leads us to believe a player isn’t attentive or simply doesn’t take the role seriously.”
- All the RBs reported to off-season strength and conditioning sessions in ‘reasonably good’ physical condition. This is not necessarily the same as in ‘football condition’, which the entire roster was individually provided details as to where the team would like them to be (weight, cardio) at the start of training camp. Crowell and Draughn met the expectation, Winston has struggled with a knee issue (subsequent surgery) and West while in shape, was not in ‘peak’ football shape as camp started.
“You want to see a player, especially a player (West) come back hungrier than before, improved due to the experience and ready to not only compete but grasp the opportunity presented. A guy like West has the physical tools to succeed at this level, we drafted him due to believing he could be effective. We’re working with him to gain a consistency in everything he does on and off the field - a focused Terrance is a good Terrance, but there comes a point when you let the player go his own way and see what happens — we’re not at that point, but he knows the expectation.”
“Crowell is a better player today than a season ago, but he has to keep working and take the bull by the horns. He is a laid-back type young man, but he wants it, it’s up to him to be aggressive and grasp the opportunity. He has the skill-set to play, he needs to hold onto the ball, do a better job in his responsibilities on the field - his mental prep is improved and he has worked hard on his footwork and balance.”
- An organization belief is this Browns team is closer to competing and being a playoff-caliber team than those around the league predicting what the season holds. The RB position is an area of concern for the organization, as this Browns team wants to run and utilize the RBs effectively coming out of the backfield. With the vast array of injuries, the concern is whether the youth and inexperience are ready for the load — or does bringing in a veteran provided insurance to enhance their aspirations.
“We have an approach here that we discuss nearly every possibility, especially if we see a potential issue that could create undue struggle. A season ago the Alex Mack injury hurt us in not having sufficient quality depth, we’ve worked to address those potential issues. We sit here looking at the RBs and believe the talent is here, but maybe it’s not coming as quickly as you’d like for whatever reason. At the end of the day you have to make the determination whether there is a guy out there you can add that will bring stability to the room — the position, we have talked about a couple veterans that are out there, but we are not at the point where we’re going to make a move.”
- Could the Browns take a look at Ray Rice? The possibility exists, but the Browns do not appear to be in a hurry to do so.
“Yes, we’ve talked about him (Rice). We believe he is a hungry player, has something to prove and has gas left in the tank and we have guys here with a history with him (Rice). But, as it stands, we have our guys in here, we believe they can get the job done and we’re working with them everyday.”