The Cleveland Browns have been looking for that ever-elusive running game since their inception back into the NFL in 1999.
Terry Kirby, Travis Prentice, Jones, and, well you get the message. The names go on, not one player stands out in memory that could strike fear into the opposition. No, I did not forget about the immortal Ben Gay, either.
During the 2001 season there were some bright moments that came from the running back position. James Jackson looked brilliant at times. Those times were far from sufficient, along with his 2.8 yards per carry average.
Third-down back, undersized back, stereo-typed running back, Jamel White has been labeled as just that. Sure, White averaged a mere 3.1 yards per carry during the 2001 season. Anyone remember his 130-plus yard effort on the ground against the Green Bay Packers? He also showed some promise during the 2001 season.
What we learned during the off-season is that the Browns organization was not convinced that neither Jackson or White was the running back of the future. Along came the draft and William Green, a running back from Boston College was the selection.
Green has been viewed as the running back of the "now" and "future" for the Cleveland Browns.
Always cordial, always saying the right things, Green spent an enormous amount of time during the spring working out in Cleveland and learning the playbook.
"The playbook here is quite a bit bigger that what we at BC (Boston College). I stayed here in Cleveland for a good amount of the spring working out, working with the coaches, and learning the playbook," Green said. "Being drafted by the Browns is a great opportunity. Having the opportunity to compete and play in the NFL are dreams that I had."
"My goal is to help the team win, if that is with me as the starting running back or in another role, that if fine, but my goal is to be the starting running back for the Cleveland Browns."
In the case of any rookie that steps from the college game onto the gridiron wars of the NFL, you never know what you're going to get.
White has come into training camp as a physical specimen. The 5'9 217-pound running back maintains that he is here to help and make the team.
"Some people don't ever believe that I belong in the NFL, it's been a fight to stay where I am and I never think that anything is owed to me," White said. "Whether it's on special-teams, as a third-down back, or as the starting running back, I'll give it my all on every single play. The coaching staff will determine who plays where and when, I can't control that, but you can count on me leaving everything on the field."
"Having the opportunity to be here and competition is all that I could ever ask."
For James Jackson, he wants to build upon a 2001 season that was a learning experience and one that ended in injury.
"I can do better than what I showed last season. There is quite a difference in playing in college and playing here," Jackson said. "I've added some weight, which has made me stronger and I am here to win the starting job. I'll go down fighting, but I will do whatever the team needs me to do, it's all about winning and right now my focus is on the starting job."
The roles that each player will fill in the 2002 season and not clearly defined through the first ten-days of training camp (13-days for the rookies and players that were required to report early).
Green was a holdout that cost him the first five-days of camp, placing him a step-behind the rest of the team. A shoulder injury held him out of the scrimmage against the Buffalo Bills Saturday, but Green is expected on the practice field on Monday. After knocking the rust off that comes with inactivity on the field, Green has begun to show the brilliance that made him the 16th-selection in the draft. He shows an ability to always be moving and falling forward. Green has been hitting the hole quickly and with authority. His feet and legs are always moving, and he is strong on the cut-back. Green must improve in the blocking aspect of the game to solidify his performance on the field.
Early impression and appearance alone, Green is the most talented running back the Browns have had on the roster since 1999.
James Jackson was in camp early after coming off ankle and rib injuries during the 2001 season. He started the 2002 training camp as the starting running back and showed that he was healthy and serious about the starting role. Jackson has shown more of a "drive" when hitting the line of scrimmage and better speed and quickness getting through a hole. Will never be known as a speedy back, but improved physical stature should make him more dependable. Currently, Jackson appears to be step behind Green on the playing field.
If there is one player that could be on the verge of bursting onto the scene, it is Jamel White. Sure, he isn't the proto-typical sized running back, not everything can be measured in how tall a man is, but rather the fire and determination within.
White has evolved himself physically into a very strong player. Upon coming to Cleveland in 2000, White could be brought down with arm-tackles and wasn't a strong runner between the hash-marks. The 2002 version of Jamel White is far from that player that we knew, as he has shown the ability to fight through a defender to gain additional yardage. By far the best blocker among the running back, White is quickly becoming the master of all trades in Berea. He is the best of the running backs coming out of the backfield, the quickest of the running backs in camp. He can turn the corner and bounce to the outside quicker than any running back in camp. White is second to Green when it comes to running the ball between the tackles at this time.
White has played with the first, second, and third team offensive teams in camp and has shined throughout. He was labeled as the third-down running back heading into camp, but his early performance should earn him a legitimate shot at the starting running back spot.
Ultimately, William Green is expected to win the starting running back job. If he does so, he will be pushed to maximize and utilize his talents, as White and Jackson have and will continue to make the competition interesting, which will make the 2002 Cleveland Browns an improved football team.