Training camp and the preseason games have come and gone. The 53-player roster has been set and all focus is now on preparing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Offensively challenged in recent seasons, the Browns look to pull a fast one on not only the Steelers, but the entire National Football League.
Professed as a priority since 1999, rushing the football is going to be a critical component of whether the Browns are successful in 2007. Playing in the AFC North, rushing the football is a key element to success, much like stopping the run is a major factor for teams within the division. An inconsistent ground attack, like the one fans have seen in recent seasons, will not be sufficient if this team is going to improve. The starting quarterback position in Cleveland is relatively unstable and the team needs to win, and now. To do that, they need to run the football.
The Browns are relying on a modified pro-style offense, which is based on a physical power running game and steady quarterback play. Taking a page out of the Norv Turner playbook from his Dallas Cowboys days, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski intends on moving the chains and taking time off the clock. As seen in training camp and in preseason game contests, the Browns offense is going to run the football, which should help take pressure off of the delicate quarterback position.
Veteran Jamal Lewis had a very good start to training camp, looking much the player of a couple years ago. As camp progressed, Lewis began to look more like the Lewis of 2005 and 2006, as he did not run with authority and began skipping to the hole, rather than running with the utmost confidence. The pre-2005 Lewis is a great find for the Browns, the post-2005 version of Lewis remains an upgrade at the position, but a much less explosive and threatening running back.
Lewis appears to have sufficient speed and quickness to turn the corner on occasion, but he is going to be expected to run the ball between the tackles, utilizing and cutting off blocks to find the running lanes. Moreso than his time in Baltimore, Lewis needs patience to be successful on those types of runs. The Browns then want Lewis to attack the hole, squaring his shoulders up, which makes him difficult to tackle.
Another concern with Lewis is health, since he has suffered from knee and ankle injuries in the past.
Not known as a pass receiver of consequence, Lewis has been involved in the passing game in preseason. He displayed good hands and ability coming out of the backfield. If given the ball in space, Lewis can be a threat at any given time.
Their abilities are a concern because, if the Browns can run the ball effectively, the offense will move the football. If they cannot, the game is placed in the hands of the quarterbacks, which is something team can't currently afford to let occur on a regular basis.
Wright, though undersized and not the fastest of backs, is workmanlike in his approach to the game. His ability to avoid mistakes and care of the ball elevated him to the number-two back on the roster. Also a solid special teams player, Wright's small stature opens up questions regarding his ability to become a full-time rusher in the event Lewis were to be injured. The team would likely utilize Wright and Harrison in a split role, if Lewis were unavailable.
Both back-ups are very good coming out of the backfield in the passing game, with Wright being the better blocker, and Harrison the quicker player. Both players possess more than adequate speed and quickness to turn the corner, with Wright being the more versatile runner at this time. Harrison is a better between-the-tackles rusher, due to his patience and very quick feet. The second-year player from Washington State can cut and bounce off defenders, while Wright is more of a slashing, find the hole type runner.
The fullbacks on the roster are expected to be versatile enough to block and play a role in the passing game. Lawrence Vickers, the starter at fullback, has increased his size over the off-season to fill the rigors of the blocking assignments. More of a rushing-type fullback than the customary blocking back, Vickers was a better-than-average blocker in his rookie season and has displayed improved technique and quality in year two.
Second on the depth chart and a long shot to make the roster, undrafted free agent Charles Ali simply refused to go away. Through some rough early training camp woes, Ali has shown the ability to devastate the opposition when getting to them in the blocking scheme. Physically imposing and quick on his feet, Ali has the size of a tight end and could be lined up at the end of the line in short yardage and goal line situations.
The rushing attack of the Browns will go where Lewis takes them. If Lewis springs back into pre-2005 form, he will be an explosive force in the Cleveland backfield. If not, the rushing game for the Browns in the 2007 season could continue on its mediocre path.