By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: If it wasn’t already clear that the Browns are counting on running back Trent Richardson to be a workhorse in his second NFL season, it definitely should be now.
After a flurry of roster moves in recent days, only second-year pro Bobby Rainey and rookie Dennis Johnson are behind Richardson on the depth chart. Rainey and Johnson were not drafted and neither has played in an NFL regular-season game, but they were claimed off waivers Sunday to serve as Richardson’s primary backups. The Browns cut veteran Brandon Jackson and placed Montario Hardesty (arthroscopic knee surgery) and Dion Lewis (surgically repaired fractured fibula) on season-ending injured reserve.
Richardson conceded Monday that he was caught off guard by all the changes at his position.
“It kind of hit me in the face like, ‘Man, I can’t believe these guys are gone or are not in the room with me right now,’ ” said Richardson, the third overall pick in last year’s draft.
Although Browns coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner want to feature a downfield, vertical passing attack, Richardson will have a prominent role, and if the preseason was any indication, he’s ready for it. In two exhibition games, he rushed for 64 yards on 13 carries (4.9 average) and caught a pass for 10 yards after sitting out the preseason opener with a bothersome shin he has seemingly overcome.
The Browns will open the regular season at home Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, and Richardson is eager to rumble.
“You really want to set the tone,” Richardson said. “I know people say it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish. You still want to get off to a good start. You still want to win that season opener. You still want to go in and get guys’ confidence up and have high hopes for the whole season. It is very important to win this game.”
Last season, Richardson missed most of training camp and all four exhibition games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He made it back in time for the regular-season opener but suffered broken ribs in Week 6. He pushed through the pain the rest of the year until he missed the season finale with a high ankle sprain.
“So I know this year I’m not looking towards no injury, no broken fingernails, nothing,” Richardson said. “I know my whole season is based on being healthy and playing 16 [games].”
Richardson revealed his playing weight last season was about 237 pounds, but he’s down to 225 and intends to stay there.
He said he hasn’t felt as quick as he is now since his days at the University of Alabama.
“I feel real soft on my feet, real light on my feet, and it’s a good thing, a real good thing,” Richardson said. “When I do make that explosive cut through the hole, hopefully nobody can see me.”
The 5-foot-9 Richardson expects to run outside the tackles more this season. He admitted he wanted the previous coaching staff to let him do more of that last season.
“It came time where they’d just run me on the inside,” said Richardson, who tallied 267 carries for 950 yards (3.6 average) and 11 touchdowns last season. “It was like, ‘Can I get an outside zone play? Can I get a mid-zone play? Can I get out in space some?’ With that, I’m the type of person that never questions. I just do what I’m told and do what I’m asked, and I just go give it my all whatever it is.
“I know it’s going to be way different this year. So when that time comes to run outside zone, get in space or whatever it is, I’m going to be prepared and in shape and running full speed, 100 mph, whatever I’ve got to go. I’m going to be ready to go downhill.”
As for the new guys, Richardson believes Rainey and Johnson have the potential to help. But he also knows they’re unproven, so he must be ready for a significant workload.
“They remind me a lot of Dion [Lewis], shifty backs, guys who want to win and want to be good,” Richardson said. “You look at guys like that coming into a big opportunity. You’ve got to teach them, coach them up and do the best you can with them.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. 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.