BEREA: Browns rookie Trent Richardson has yet to prove he’s an elite NFL running back, but his knack for reaching the end zone suggests greatness is attainable.
“Some guys have it, and some guys don’t,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said Wednesday. “There are running backs that can get you up and down the field, and then there are other ones when you give it to them … they find a way to get in the end zone. He has that ability.”
Through four games, or a quarter of this season, Richardson has 64 carries for 222 yards (3.5 average) and 15 catches for 122 yards. Although his rushing average isn’t ideal, he has scored four touchdowns (three rushing and one receiving).
“I’ve always had a nose for the end zone, especially when we’re down near the goal line,” said Richardson, who gained 104 yards from scrimmage and ran for a 1-yard touchdown last week in the Browns’ 23-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. “My mindset is, ‘We’re in the red zone. We have to score.’ If they give me the ball, most definitely I have to make something happen for the team.
“Those [last] 10 yards are like a lifetime. Every man is fighting for their life, especially on the defensive side. Those guys don’t want to be pushed back. They want to be the bigger man in the hole. No man wants to get whooped down near the goal line no matter what.”
The 5-foot-9, 230-pound Richardson is accustomed to beating down defenders, though he has had fewer opportunities as of late. Richardson had 19 carries in each of the first two games, but the amount decreased to 12 in Week 3 and 14 in Week 4. In each of the past two games, Richardson had 18 touches (carries and receptions combined) compared with 20 in Week 1 and 23 in Week 2.
“Coach has a plan,” said Richardson, the third overall pick in this year’s draft. “Whatever Coach does, I’m here for. I know I could buy into the program. Whatever the coach has planned, it doesn’t matter if I get the ball a lot, it doesn’t matter if I get the ball a little. As long as we win, that’s all that counts.”
But the Browns (0-4) haven’t won, and they’re preparing to visit the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants (2-2). Although Richardson won’t publicly lobby for more touches, rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden said feeding Richardson the rock should be a top priority.
“It opens up things for coach Shurmur calling plays, finding a way to get it to him, however we get it to him,” Weeden said. “He’s a guy that loves having the ball in his hands, so he can take more hits maybe than the next guy.
“So you can take the pressure off the five [offensive linemen] up front. It also takes the pressure off me and the [wide receivers on the] outside. So that’ll all come, and we’ve just gotta be patient and keep staying the course.”
Shurmur agrees, but he wouldn’t specify what he considers an ideal amount of touches for Richardson.
“I’m not going to pin myself down to a number,” Shurmur said. “It’s important he touches the football, and it’s important he’s involved throughout the game.”
Richardson’s health should only strengthen his case for more opportunities. He was not listed on the team’s injury report Wednesday for the first time this season. Richardson had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Aug. 9 to remove a loose piece of cartilage.
“We all know that he started the year and was less than 100 percent,” Shurmur said. “I think he’s getting where he’s at a place physically where he needs to be.”
Since his NFL debut a month ago, Richardson believes he has made strides in several ways.
“Week 1 was all over the place for me,” he said. “I was trying to come back [from surgery], my first NFL game, first start. My mindset was to go in and do what I can to help the team. Now I feel more comfortable. I know the flow of the game, the flow of the speed. I know what I can do each level of the game.”
The Browns hope more progress is on the horizon.
Ready for debut
Rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson said he’ll make his NFL regular-season debut Sunday. Johnson, a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, suffered a ribs/oblique injury Aug. 30 in the preseason finale and has missed each of the first four games.
“I’ll be out there this week,” said Johnson, who was limited in practice Wednesday. “It’s very exciting. I’m glad I can go out there and play.
“I know I’m on special teams for sure. I’m playing a little defense, too, so I’m in the rotation somewhere. I’ll be out there.”
When asked how much he’ll play on defense, Johnson said: “I don’t know. I have no clue. I can’t call it.”
Giants quarterback Eli Manning knows Jimmy Haslam III, because the incoming owner of the Browns is a friend of his father, Archie, and brother Peyton, the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos.
“I know what type of man he is and the integrity that he has,” Eli Manning said during a conference call. “I think he’ll be great for Cleveland, and I know he’s good for the NFL coming in and being a new owner. I know that’s been a longtime dream of his, and [I’m] happy that it has worked out.”
Haslam has flirted with the idea of hiring Peyton Manning at some point in the future. However, Eli Manning said he doesn’t know whether his brother would accept an offer to help Haslam run the Browns.
“I have no idea,” Eli said. “Peyton’s worried about playing football for the Broncos right now, and I think that’s where his focus is.”
Five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas dealt with an injured left knee earlier this season, and his performances haven’t been as stellar as in the past. But if Thomas’ knee is still bothering him, he isn’t letting on.
“I feel pretty good,” Thomas said.
Shurmur said he doesn’t believe it’s a factor.
“I don’t think his knee’s bothering him,” Shurmur said. ‘‘… Joe’s battling just like everybody up front. Joe’s a steady performer. Joe plays extremely well.”
Kicker Phil Dawson has made 11 field goals of 50 yards or longer in his past 17 games, including three last week against the Ravens.
“I can’t imagine there’s really a better kicker anywhere else,” Shurmur said. “I think we’re really blessed to have him as our kicker.”
Strong safety T.J. Ward hasn’t practiced since undergoing surgery on his right thumb this past weekend. Usama Young (knee) was limited in practice Wednesday. But if Ward can’t play Sunday, Young would likely replace him in the starting lineup, and Eric Hagg would probably start at free safety. … Undrafted rookie free safety Tashaun Gipson (knee) and tight end Alex Smith (concussion) did not practice. … Defensive end Frostee Rucker (shoulder) and special teamer Ray Ventrone (hand) were limited. … Linebacker Scott Fujita said his meeting Friday in New York with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “went well,” but he doesn’t know when to expect an update about the New Orleans Saints’ bounty case. … Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin will serve as the Browns’ fourth captain Sunday.
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 at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.