BEREA: Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson felt more like his usual self after practice Wednesday, and it was evident by the way he interacted with the media.
When a reporter jokingly asked Richardson if he wanted the group of sports writers to hit him so he could test his ability to play through a nagging rib injury, Richardson smiled and delivered an appropriate warning.
“If you’re ready to get hit back, that’s on you,” he said.
Despite the injury, Richardson made it clear he intends to play Sunday when the Browns (1-6) host the San Diego Chargers (3-3), who have the NFL’s second-ranked run defense. Some believe he should rest during the next two games and return at full strength following the Browns’ Nov. 11 bye. However, Richardson doesn’t consider that a realistic possibility.
“I’m not going to sit down,” said Richardson, the third overall pick in this year’s draft. “That’s just never been in me to sit down. I only sat a game when I had to and I couldn’t go out there. I’m going to go out there and see what I can do. If I can’t finish the game, [backup running back] Montario [Hardesty is] going to be there and he’s going to do what he [does] every week when I’m not in the game.”
Coach Pat Shurmur said Richardson, a consummate competitor, would try to convince him to play “no matter how he feels.” But Shurmur plans to let Richardson play as long as the team’s medical staff gives its blessing.
“If he’s healthy to play, he plays,” Shurmur said. “And if they tell me that he’s at no risk to hurt it further, then we’re playing ball. As I watch him in practice, just like we watched him in the game, if we feel like [resting him is] something that we can and should do, then we’ll do it. Otherwise we’re getting him ready to play.”
The 5-foot-9, 230-pound Richardson insists he feels much better already.
“I can tell a big difference,” Richardson said. “Last week, [the injury] was still fresh. This week, it feels way better than it did last week. You know it’s making progress, and I can really tell the big difference from this week to last week.
“From what they tell me, it’s no concern in me making the injury worse at all. From what I know, I don’t think it’s a possibility to make it worse. I just think as I go on, it’s just going to get better. They felt around on it today, and they said it’s getting back solid again and it’s feeling pretty good. It’s getting better day by day.”
Although Richardson expressed optimism Wednesday, his mood was not nearly as lighthearted Sunday following the Browns’ 17-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. In fact, it was downright somber.
Richardson suffered a rib cartilage injury early in the first quarter Oct. 14 when he absorbed a blow from the helmet of a Cincinnati Bengals defender. He split playing time with Hardesty before leaving the game for good midway through the third quarter.
With a flak jacket protecting his ribs, Richardson tried to push through the pain Sunday but proved to be ineffective. He played 16-of-60 snaps (27 percent) and rushed for only 8 yards on eight carries before Shurmur benched him after he was stuffed for no gain on third-and-1 with a little less than five minutes left in the second quarter.
“Even from my perspective, I thought I was going to be better,” Richardson said. “But, of course, I didn’t have [any] contact going into the game, so I thought I was going to be better. It was a little worse than I thought it was going to be as far as like pain-wise and taking hits. So coach made the right decision.”
Shurmur does not regret giving Richardson an opportunity to play hurt.
“I was watching him every step of the way,” Shurmur said. “I don’t think it [would have been] wise to keep him out. He didn’t re-injure himself. Had he re-injured himself or set himself back, then I would have second thoughts, but that wasn’t the case.”
Richardson hasn’t been at full strength at any point during this season. He had a torn meniscus repaired in his left knee Feb. 3. Then on Aug. 9, he had arthroscopic surgery on the same knee to have a piece of loose cartilage removed. He missed all four preseason games as a result.
“Missing them four games, it took a toll,” Richardson said. “I wasn’t me when I first got out there.”
And the rib injury hasn’t helped his cause, either.
Richardson is ranked 22nd in the NFL with 348 rushing yards and tied for 46th among the league’s 50 leading rushers with 3.4 yards per carry. So even though he has scored five touchdowns and shown flashes of dominance this season, Richardson hasn’t lived up to his potential.
“I still haven’t been 100 percent just yet,” Richardson said. “I mean I had two surgeries in [six] months.
“It’s frustrating because I want to be out there all the time. And I want to be 100 percent, and the league hasn’t seen me at 100 percent yet.”
No one knows exactly when Richardson will reach top form. In the meantime, he’s determined to endure.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj.