BEREA—Mike Pettine said that he and the coaching staff are confident that second-year running back Isaiah Crowell is ready to carry the load as the lead back.
“We are,” he said. “(Crowell) made some strides from that standpoint just heading into Year Two. He got so few reps. If you think back to it, he was injured for most of the spring a year ago and then got very limited reps during training camp. Just his volume has increased and he has responded to it and handled it well.
“We are confident that he can be a lead back, but also know it is very difficult and there are very few backs that are ‘that guy’ that is going to touch it 20-plus times in a game,” he said. “We feel good about where Crow is.”
The path has been cleared for Crowell to play a significant role with the trade of Terrance West and the preseason injuries to Duke Johnson (hamstring/concussion) and Shaun Draughn (broken hand).
Crowell (5-11, 225) played in all 16 games as a rookie after making the team as an undrafted free agent from Alabama State, finishing with 607 yards on 148 carries (4.1 avg.). He scored eight touchdowns and caught nine passes for 87 yards. Crowell’s best game rushing was when he had 88 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns in the win over the Falcons.
Pettine was asked what area that Crowell has improved the most in.
“A lot of the little things,” Pettine said. “He is very much improved in protection. I think that is probably the biggest thing and then also his route running and his ability as a receiver. When you throw the ball to him, sometimes you cringe because he doesn’t look like the most natural hands-catcher, but he doesn’t drop the ball. We are in a ‘get it done’ business. He finds a way to catch it. I think those are probably the two biggest areas that he has made strides in. We feel much more comfortable throwing him the ball this year and much more trusting of him in pass protection.”
Ready to Start: Pettine said the team has looked forward to the season opening game for a long time.
“Been looking forward to this week for a long time,” Pettine said. “That Baltimore game seems like forever ago. I think it has been over 250 days since we played and walked off the field, obviously, very dejected, having finished the season with the losing streak that we did. It was unfortunate just because of the good start that we had put together.
“We’ve got a chance for all that to settle down,” he said. “After that game, when we looked at everything, we were very encouraged, encouraged by what we accomplished, encouraged by the plan we had moving forward and encouraged by knowing that we are going to have a lot more information heading into Year 2.
Desir Back: Besides rookie RB Duke Johnson returning to practice, second year DB Pierre Desir was also cleared from his concussion and was practicing Wednesday. The Browns issued a pre-practice injury report with 14 players on it, including OL Joe Thomas, who was given the day as a rest day.
“On the injury front, we’re very encouraged with the progress our players have made” Pettine said. “Duke (Johnson) and Pierre (Desir) have both passed the next step in the protocol and they will both be on the field practicing (Wednesday).
“Basically, all of our 53 will be able to practice, at least in some form or fashion,” he said. “Justin Gilbert is the only one we’re not sure about. It depends how he feels when he warms up.”
Gilbert was suited up with the rest of the team going through drills during the portion of practice open to the media.
The complete pre-practice injury report: WR Dwayne Bowe (hamstring), DB Pierre Desir (concussion), DB Justin Gilbert (hip flexor), DB Joe Haden (hip), RB Duke Johnson (concussion), LB Christian Kirksey (groin), QB Johnny Manziel (right elbow), LB Barkevious Mingo (knee), WR Marlon Moore (rib), LB Nate Orchard (back), WR Terrelle Pryor (hamstring), OL Mitchell Schwartz (thumb), OL Joe Thomas (rest) and DB K’Waun Williams (abdominal).
Changing of the Guard: Pettine said that assistant offensive line coach George DeLeone will take over for suspended OL coach Andy Moeller. He anticipates a smooth transition with the difference being DeLeone, who is usually in the coaches booth will now be on the sideline.
“George DeLeone will come down from the booth and assume his role,” he said. “It is the same voice. George was up top with the same observation. He will just be down on the field now to work with the offensive linemen in between series.”
Pettine is confident the transition from Moeller to DeLeone will go smoothly.
“We met as an offensive staff and talked about how we’re going to absorb the workload, talked to the offensive linemen,” Pettine said. “As I said before, we’ll lean heavily on the leadership in that room, and that’s one of the reasons that we’re confident that we’ll be able to overcome his loss.”
Pettine made a statement on Moeller.
“On the Andy Moeller situation, everything about the incident is troubling,” he said. “The allegations, all the information that is available, it is disturbing. However, we are not going to comment any further. It is an ongoing investigation. There is a process that we have established internally as to how we handle any conduct issue and we are going to stick to it. I am not going to comment any further on that.”
Depth Chart Misdirect: Pettine was asked about WR Dwayne Bowe being listed behind WR Brian Hartline and WR Travis Benjamin on the team’s depth chart released for this week’s game.
“Let me walk you through how we do our depth chart: (Vice president of communications) Pete (John-Baptiste) types it up and walks into my office,” Pettine said. “He says, ‘How’s it look?’ Sometimes I look at it, sometimes I don’t. It is usually a very cursory glance. I say, ‘It looks good.’ I don’t put a lot of stock in depth charts, neither should you. I know the league requires it. The NFL nowadays is very specialized. There are some groupings where guys might be listed as fourth string… Here is our depth chart here.
“Guys that are going to start the game or could potentially start the game, they are listed third or fourth,” he said. “I don’t put a lot into it. To me, it makes no sense for me to me to go into detail and list who I truly think our starting 11 is going to be. It is an exercise we have to go through.”
Pettine was asked if he would say if Bowe would start.
“You can wait.”
Numbers Change: Several of the Browns changed their jersey numbers, including WR Terrelle Pryor to 17, FB Malcolm Johnson to 42, LB Nate Orchard to 44 and DL Jamie Meder to 98. New OL Austin Pasztor is wearing 67. DB Charles Gaines—on IR designated for return is 27, while RB Glenn Winston, who’s on season-long injured reserve is 28.
Pettine said that Pryor’s number change has nothing to do with the possibility of him playing quarterback.
“That was his personal preference,” Pettine said. “The players, if they want to request a number change go through (head equipment manager) Brad (Melland). Brad will send me an email. As long as he’s not taking a number from somebody else. There’s was no positional versatility thinking behind that. He instituted the change. That did not come from the staff.”