Let the Battles Begin: Running Backs

With or without the troubles circling Reuben Droughns, the Browns competition at running back during the pre-season would be intriguing. Greg Hensley takes a look at the battles which will take place starting this weekend...

With the Browns' voluntary camp currently underway and minicamp set to begin this weekend, this will be the first step in not only earning a starting position, but also a spot on the 53-man roster. Unlike the last couple of off-seasons, this year should provide a great deal of competition at virtually every position. Today, we take a look at the running backs.

After becoming the Browns' first 1,000-yard rusher in 20 years, Reuben Droughns was given the contract extension he desired. He not only carried the offense last season, he set the tone by fighting for every inch. He brought a toughness and image to the position. When he was running, everyone remembered why the AFC North is known as "The Black and Blue Division."

It was a given a few weeks ago that Droughns would be the starting running back in 2006. This might no longer be the case, however, due to his recent arrest following a domestic dispute. If convicted of the charges and given jail time, he probably will be suspended by the National Football League.

Droughns was not effective in short-yardage situations. He also put the ball on the ground far too often. These issues might now become magnified due to his off-the-field problems. When you start looking at the negative aspects of an individual, the negative often becomes the primary focus.

This was exactly the type of situation General Manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel wanted to avoid with the overhaul of the roster. The word "character" is something the new regime takes seriously. It wants a team that is truly representative of the City of Cleveland.

One man's trouble is another man's opportunity. This is certainly the case for William Green and Lee Suggs.

Green has had more than his on share of off-the-field problems. However, he has been a model citizen since Crennel's arrival. He has done whatever the coaching staff has asked and has made all the right moves by showing a willingness to do anything to get on the field. Whether it has been returning kicks on special teams or flying down the field on coverage, he has found a way to contribute.

If Green is to become the No. 1 back again, he must remove the word hesitation from his vocabulary. He is a dynamic back when there is an open hole, but has not shown the ability to create his own running lane when none is there. This is what separates the great backs from the backups. Can he ever learn to hit the pile and pick up one or two yards instead of accepting a loss of yardage?

Suggs has all the talent to be a successful NFL running back. He has the ability to knife through traffic at the line of scrimmage and the speed to beat defenders to the edge. He can take it the distance on any given play.

Injury was the reason Suggs was drafted in the fourth round instead of the first and is the reason for his demise in the eyes of Crennel. If he can't stay on the field, he is not helping the team and taking a roster spot away from someone who can contribute. He has also has to overcome fumble problems.

Odds are one or two of these backs will be gone before opening day. This leaves a great deal of opportunity for the young running backs currently on the roster.

All eyes should be focused on rookie running back Jerome Harrison. He was drafted as a third-down back for this offense. But if he can demonstrate the same skills he displayed at Washington State, he could easily find himself competing for the starting position. He has neither the size nor speed you look for, but makes up for those negatives with tremendous balance and elusiveness. This combination can be lethal once he gets into the open field. Harrison is also a tremendous weapon receiving the ball.

The two areas he will need to improve upon are hesitation when no hole is available and the blitz pickup. Don't be surprised if he is not given a great deal of opportunity in camp as well as in preseason.

Fullback Lawrence Vickers could become a factor in the running-back competition due to his ability to pick up the tough yards that have escaped previous Browns running backs. There is a reason this team has been forced to throw the ball on third down and inches.

Vickers' short-yardage skills, as well as solid hands receiving the ball, could make him the go-to guy in goal-line situations. Look for him to be a major contributor in this offense, especially when you consider offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon is a former fullback.

Undrafted rookie Chris Barclay should be able to, at the very least, earn a spot on the practice squad. He will also have a chance to make the team as a third-down back and a contributor on special teams. He was not drafted due to his lack of size. Running backs who weigh 180 pounds do not last in the NFL. He will have stiff competition to make the roster, but keeping him on the practice squad will add emergency depth at the position.

Second-year running back Jason Wright must find a way to contribute on special teams. There are simply too many talented backs on the roster. This makes it very difficult for an undrafted prospect to make the squad.

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