BEREA—It took a while, but the Browns are starting to see the results of what they anticipated when they traded up to draft Duke Johnson in this year’s NFL Draft. Johnson came out of the University of Miami as the Hurricanes all-time rushing leader with 3,519 yards in just three seasons.
“It came to fruition how we envisioned Duke’s role (to be),” Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. “He’s not going to have nine catches every game, but it was really good to see. I think he’s finally back to 100 percent and he can trust to cut it loose a little bit in terms of running. Like I said a couple weeks ago, because he missed some time.”
Johnson suffered a hamstring injury early in training camp and then when he recovered enough to make his preseason debut against Tampa Bay on Aug. 29, he suffered a concussion early in the game. He missed the remainder of the preseason and was cleared in time to start the regular season.
Johnson (5-9, 210) saw his most extensive action of the season against the Chargers in Week Four as he accounted for 116 all-purpose yards on 17 touches. Johnson had 85 yards on nine receptions and rushed for 31 yards on eight attempts. The signature play was a 34-yard touchdown catch he made over the shoulder and used a nifty toe tap to get his feet down inbounds. The nine receptions were the most by a Browns running back since 2002. On the season, Johnson has 99 yards on 31 carries (3.2 avg.), second to Isaiah Crowell in using and third in receiving with 15 catches for 117 yards (7.8 avg.)
“The catch Duke made on the first touchdown is one of the best catches I’ve seen by a running back, to track a deep ball like that and to catch it over his shoulder,” Josh McCown said. “We practice handoffs and throwing shakedowns, and (deep passes are) not something that they get a ton of time practicing so for him to do that, it was just very,, very impressive and really encouraging.”
Johnson’s versatility is what DeFilippo likes.
“I love guys that can do a lot of jobs,” he said. “Skill players that can line up in the backfield on first and second downs and then split them out. It’s so valuable, but I don’t think there’s a lot of (running backs) who can make that (touchdown catch).”
“That is the maximum – you want him to be effective in a game,” McCown said. “There are different ways that we can move him around and use him, but more than anything, you just want him to be able to exploit the mismatches that you may have when he’s on the field. Again, whether that’s once a game or five times a game, it just depends on that game goes, but when you’re allowed to have that matchup, you want to be able to exploit it. Obviously, we felt good about that (last week).”
Johnson said that’s his role.
“That’s one of the reasons why I’m here,” Johnson said. “I bring a different element in the passing game, just helping him out when we get in trouble, just dink and dunk and be able to get yards.”
McCown said he’s gaining confidence in Johnson each and every day.
“It’s huge because you’re able to save plays that way,” he said. “You’re able to come back and maybe you call a play one time and you get a certain look, and then you get a different look so you might not get down field where you’d like to get, but you get underneath, you get to the back and you keep plays alive that way.
“Everybody’s confidence grows as far as the scope of plays that we can call, feel good running because we know the ball is going to get distributed where it’s supposed to go and those guys can catch and make plays,” he said. “It’s very encouraging obviously to see Crow (Crowell) and Duke do that out of the backfield. It’s going to be a huge help.”
DeFilippo said he thinks Johnson has the size to be durable enough to handle an even bigger load. Last week, he played 61 percent of the offensive snaps (43 of the 71 offensive plays). Crowell played 37 percent of the snaps.
“To me, I really like what we did last week with Crow and Duke,” he said. “We did more things with Duke and when you have a guy like Duke you’re not using him only as a receiver when he’s out there. Duke is going to be a pretty durable guy, just had a bad break (early in camp with the injuries).”
O’Neil Defends Scheme: Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said it’s not uncommon for opposing players to know what plays are being run by the opponent when told that DB Tramon Williams and LB Paul Kruger said they thought QB Philip Rivers knew what the Browns defense was doing in advance.
“They did a good job, we didn’t do a good enough job,” he said. “We know what they’re doing and they know what we’re doing.”
O’Neil said he always listens to suggestions from his players.
“You’d be crazy to not take information from players, especially veteran players.”
Flip on Bowe: WR Dwayne Bowe played just four offensive snaps last week against the Chargers. He had one pass thrown his way and it appeared that Bowe made a half-hearted effort to try to catch the ball. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was asked if he felt Bowe made a good effort on the pass to him.
“I thought the corner made a really nice play getting his hand in there,” DeFilippo said. “The effort was there. It was pretty good defense.”
Bowe has not caught a pass yet this season for the Browns. He has been inactive in two of the four games, due to the hamstring injury he suffered early in training camp.DeFilippo indicated that Bowe is still trying to work his way back into the lineup.
“Dwayne is still a little bit behind with the injury and that’s what the plan dictated (last) week.”
Gipson, Robertson, Draughn Still Out:During the portion of practice open to the media, LB Craig Robertson (ankle), DB Tashaun Gipson (ankle) and RB Shaun Draughn (back) were not on the field. All three did not practice on Wednesday. Pettine said that Robertson is unlikely to play this week. WR Brian Hartline (thigh/ribs) was on the stationary bike. RB Robert Turbin (ankle) and LB Scott Solomon (ankle) practiced and were listed as limited on the injury report. DB Joe Haden (finger) and DB K’Waun Williams (concussion) practiced.