By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns running back Willis McGahee vowed to improve dramatically Sunday against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner is among those hoping he delivers.
McGahee signed with the Browns on Sept. 19, one day after they traded running back Trent Richardson, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a 2014 first-round pick. McGahee had one practice to prepare, and it showed Sunday, when he rushed eight times for only 9 yards (1.1 average) in a 31-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
“It’s going to be a dramatic improvement,” McGahee said Thursday before practice. “Oh, we’re going to have more than  yards rushing. Don’t worry about that. That’s going to be an improvement. It’s [about] me getting familiar with the [offensive linemen], learning how they do things, how they attack and handle certain situations.”
The Browns (1-2) have thrown 53, 37 and 55 passes in their first three games. They’re ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing (71.7 yards per game).
“We want to run the ball,” Turner said. “If you don’t have balance, it’s going to get you in the end.
“I don’t think we want to throw the ball that many times. We’re working hard to get balance.”
McGahee, who will turn 32 next month, hadn’t played since Nov. 18, when he tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee and fractured his lower right leg as a member of the Denver Broncos, who cut him in June. The rust was evident not only during most of his runs, but also when Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson overpowered him in pass protection and sacked quarterback Brian Hoyer late in the third quarter.
“You have to go through a couple of practices before you go out there,” said McGahee, who made the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2011. “I’ve learned that. I got blasted one time in the Minnesota game and it was like ‘Oh, this is a wake-up call for me. It isn’t as easy as I thought.’ You have to train your body to go through and get hit, block. You just can’t come [out of your] house and just try to go block a star linebacker in the NFL. I don’t care who you are.”
McGahee insisted he feels healthy, is not bothered by running behind Chris Ogbonnaya instead of a traditional fullback and a week of practice will make a huge difference.
“I like touching the rock,” McGahee said. “You know what I mean? Zone blocking, power, however.
“Something’s going to pop out. I don’t know what it is, touchdowns or the yards. Either one.”
McGahee sounds as if he wants to make fans forget about Richardson, but he realizes he must back up his talk before anyone in Cleveland will take him seriously. The Bengals (2-1) are ranked 14th against the run (102.3 rushing yards allowed per game).
“I’ve got to go out there and produce, and it’ll speak for itself,” McGahee said. “I can easily go say, ‘I want to do this and do that,’ but nobody’s going to believe it [until] they see it.”
The offense needs to see some evidence because throwing more than 50 passes isn’t ideal.
“You can’t do that every week,” McGahee said. “That’s when the run game has to come alive. It’s going to come alive. Coaches have faith in us. We still work. It’s a work in progress. But we’re going to get it done because we’re professionals.”
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.