BEREA: Running back Dion Lewis is confident he has a bright future with the Browns despite an injury ending his first season with the team before it really started.
“I’m doing fine now, and I’ll be back better than ever,” Lewis said Wednesday.
Lewis suffered a fractured fibula and ligament damage in his left leg Aug. 15 during a preseason game against the Detroit Lions. He had a plate and screws inserted into his leg Aug. 19 and was placed on season-ending injured reserve a week later.
“When I first got hurt, I got a lot of calls from a lot of people,” Lewis said, speaking to reporters for the first time since he suffered the injury. “[We] definitely have a great support system here and you could tell that they want me here. So I want to be here. I like where this team’s heading, and I like Coach [Rob Chudzinski]. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around. He knows how to get guys fired up, so I want to be here.
“There’s always room for improvement. I feel like I get better every day and every year. I’m only 23, so I feel like I have a pretty long career ahead of me, and I’m just going to keep working toward that and do whatever the coaches want me to do to be a better player.”
In April, the Browns traded backup linebacker Emmanuel Acho to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Lewis, who’s under contract through the 2014 season. One of the most pleasant surprises of training camp, Lewis was listed third on the depth chart when he was injured, and the Browns had planned to use him as a third-down back. He had 10 carries for 45 yards (4.5 average) to go along with seven catches for 37 yards and a touchdown in two exhibition games.
“I thought I was doing well, making great strides every day and wanted to be a part of this team,” Lewis said. “It definitely was disappointing, but you just got to get over it quick and keep moving forward and hopefully next year will be big.”
The 5-foot-8, 195-pound Lewis has been rehabilitating by lifting weights for about a month, and he began walking without wearing a protective boot last week. He said because the break in his fibula was low, his ankle was affected as well. He doesn’t know when he’ll be able to start running, but he expects to be fully healthy for organized team activities in May.
“I’ll be able to do everything I was able to do before,” Lewis said. “Throughout the whole rehab, my legs will probably get stronger because obviously when you get hurt, you work on something so much more.”
Lewis conceded it’s been difficult to watch the Browns knowing he could help their 26th-ranked rushing offense (81.6 yards per game). When the organization traded running back Trent Richardson, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, to the Indianapolis Colts in September, it created an opening on which Lewis wishes he could’ve capitalized.
“That was a big surprise,” Lewis said. “Knowing that he got traded and I was hurt and I couldn’t do nothing about it, that was a little bit of a downside for me.”
The Browns, though, know what Lewis can do. Wide receivers coach Scott Turner, the son of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, was as assistant for the University of Pittsburgh when Lewis played there. And Browns CEO Joe Banner was the president of the Philadelphia Eagles when they drafted Lewis in the fifth round in 2011.
With those connections and his determination, Lewis believes he’ll get a chance to earn a role as a feature back next season.
“I feel like when I come back, I’ll come back and compete,” Lewis said. “Nobody’s going to be given a job. So I feel like if I come back and I compete and I’m able to do things I can do, I’ll be fine.”
Quarterback Jason Campbell said he won’t wear any extra padding to protect his bruised ribs Sunday when the Browns (4-5) visit the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals (6-4). Campbell suffered the injury Nov. 3 in a 24-18 win over the Baltimore Ravens but had a chance to rest this past weekend during the Browns’ bye.
“I’ll be the same as normal. I’m feeling good. I’m feeling great,” Campbell said. “I think our training staff has done an outstanding job of getting everything prepared, and now it’s just a matter of just going out and just playing.”
Chudzinski said Campbell has looked “fine” and has experienced “no issues” throwing the ball in recent practices. Campbell fully participated in practice Wednesday.
Wide receiver Greg Little walked into the Browns’ locker room and shouted to reporters, “Who’s got the tape of T-Rich?”
Little was referring to a TMZ report alleging that Richardson, who the Browns traded in September, is featured in a sex tape that’s currently being shopped around. According to the report, Richardson appears in the tape with at least three women.
Chudzinski said one of the main reasons why defensive coordinator Ray Horton has been able to implement his aggressive scheme in recent weeks has been the play of cornerback Buster Skrine and free safety Tashaun Gipson.
“As the season’s went on, we’ve put in more plays on defense, and we’ve been successful with it,” Skrine said. “We’ve been getting a lot sacks and things like that. With our defense, it just takes time to run certain things, and me and Gipson, we’ve been doing a pretty good job of holding our own. That’s why we’ve been able to do new stuff. ... In the back end, we’re always just saying, ‘Let’s hold up our guys because our front seven will get there.’ ”
Undrafted rookie tight end MarQueis Gray (hamstring) was the only Browns player to sit out practice Wednesday. Campbell, outside linebacker Paul Kruger (finger), running back Willis McGahee (knee), running back Chris Ogbonnaya (ribs) and cornerback Chris Owens were full participants.