KENT: Before he hit rewind, the play that prompted Kent State football coach Darrell Hazell to compare Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson to hall of famer Emmitt Smith might not have looked all that dazzling.
The run that had Hazell gushing went for 1 yard on the stat sheet. But Hazell loved how Richardson turned a 3-yard loss into a 1-yard gain.
“Is that the third-and-1?” asked Casey Wolf, the assistant athletic director for football operations, who had poked his head in the door of the conference room. Wolf’s question made it sound like the play was legendary around the KSU offices.
“Uncontested. Just so strong. He has great leg strength,” Hazell observed. “He’s going to be a special guy, I think. He reminds me a lot of Emmitt.”
Hazell said he’d seen Smith in person when he was younger, but couldn’t recall when or where. Hazell was unaware that Richardson and Smith both attended Escambia High School in Pensacola, Fla.
But as he reviewed video of the 2011 season opener at Alabama, Hazell marveled when he saw sophomore defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix, the Golden Flash most likely to be playing against Richardson on Sundays, smack Richardson in the backfield. Twenty pounds heavier, Nix lost his shoe and Richardson still bulled for the first down.
“All the things you talk about, being a great pass protector, patient to the hole, finishing runs, breaking tackles …” Hazell said.
And he’d only analyzed Alabama’s first three plays. In the first five, Richardson broke three tackles in the backfield.
“When you have guys like that, it makes those guys up front so much better,” Hazell said. “They don’t have to be perfectly on the block for him to run through an arm tackle.”
Starting despite a hamstring injury but playing perhaps half the game, Richardson rushed 13 times for 37 yards and three touchdowns in Alabama’s 48-7 victory on Sept. 3.
Before Richardson takes the field for the first time today at the Browns’ rookie minicamp, Hazell spent over 30 minutes giving a scouting report on the third overall pick. What also struck Hazell was the way Richardson physically attacked defenders in pass protection and how quickly he learned from his mistakes.
Hazell pointed out that Richardson missed on his first pass protection assignment when the line slid and he went a little too wide of the defender instead of staying hip-to-hip. But the next time, Richardson made the correction. Hazell noted that he moved “tighter to the tackle so there’s no leakage inside.”
Against KSU, Richardson’s best chance to show his speed came on his only reception, a 16-yarder to the KSU 1 that set up a third-quarter touchdown.
“Designed screen to him, the linemen releasing downfield. He catches it nice and clean, look at that, caught it at the 19-yard line and just hits the accelerator,” Hazell said. “Look how quick he is in tight spaces. He’s rolling.”
On another run play, Hazell noticed the same thing of the 5-10½, 224-pounder.
“Here’s the thing that’s probably underestimated about the guy. Look how quick he is for as big as he is. He’s hitting that thing at full speed on a quick trap draw,” Hazell said.
“He’s got such quickness in the hole, great vision and he’s got enough speed to be a 60-yard back in the NFL. Probably not an 80-yard back.” Hazell was referring to how far Richardson could go before being chased down.
Hazell said Richardson will force opponents to put an extra defender near the line of scrimmage, which should open up the passing game.
“That gives you single coverage on the outside,” Hazell said. “That’s where he’s going to create advantages. If you don’t, you’re not going to tackle that guy with one guy. You’re going to have to have guys hitting him from the side.”
When discussing the impact a back like Richardson can make, Hazell mentioned the Dallas Cowboys’ marquee trio of quarterback Troy Aikman, wide receiver Michael Irvin and Smith, who led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl victories in four years in the 1990s. Hazell said Smith was the key to the whole thing.
“You hand the ball to Emmitt, he got Michael open, he gave Troy protection,” Hazell said. “He had [Mark] Tuinei and Nate Newton up front. Those are great players, but they didn’t have to be perfectly lined up blocking guys, they could be on an edge of a guy and know Emmitt was going to run through a tackle. There aren’t many guys like that around.”
The session over, Hazell summed up what he’d seen in Richardson.
“You can tell he’s smart,” Hazell said. “He’s unselfish, you can tell by his whole body demeanor, how he stands in there and blocks. He’s got an air of confidence about him. Those linemen and the quarterback are going to rally around him.
“He’ll be a lot of fun to watch. The Browns have gotten a lot better by drafting him.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.