BEREA: Trent Richardson couldn’t conceal his smile Thursday afternoon when he was told Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens plans to request a Browns jersey with No. 33 on it.
“I’m a huge fan of his,” Rice told Baltimore reporters this week. “After the game, I’ve been exchanging jerseys with a few guys. I might have to go ahead and tell Trent, ‘Let me borrow one of those jerseys.’ I might not even have to exchange with him. I’m just going to ask for his.”
Richardson will want something in return.
“I want a Ray Rice jersey, man,” Richardson said. “I’ve always been a big fan of Ray. I talked to him on the phone a little bit, and he gave me big brother talks and stuff like that. He’s a great guy. If Ray says he wants my jersey, I will send him one of my jerseys. That’s big because he will be in Canton, Ohio, in the hall of fame, and that’s a moment you’ve got to cherish if he’s saying he wants one of my jerseys.”
Before their potential swap of uniforms, the two star running backs figure to play prominent roles Sunday, when the Browns (2-6) host the Ravens (5-2) in an AFC North rematch from Week 4.
Richardson is coming off the best game of his young NFL career. He battled through a rib injury — which he said is still sore but feels better — and had 24 carries for 122 yards (5.1 average) and a touchdown, leading the Browns to a 7-6 win over the San Diego Chargers.
But if there’s one situation in which Richardson definitely needs to improve, it’s on third-and-1.
“On third-and-1, you need to be able to execute at a very high percentage for 1 yard,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “We’ve had a combination of things that have happened to us, and it’s not always on the runner. But we need to enforce our will and get a yard.”
Of his seven carries on third-and-1 this season, Richardson has run for a first down only twice. Richardson’s 28.6 percent conversion rate on third-and-1 is ranked last among the top 47 players the NFL lists in the category.
“Even though we had a good average and we were over 100 yards, we still said, ‘Boy, we left a lot of yards on the field,’ ” Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said. “There are still a lot of areas we can improve, just the small details of the technique and things like that. Obviously, the real glaring situational issue right now is the third-and-1. For whatever reason, we haven’t been effective enough on third-and-1, which is something that you should be well over 50 percent, and we’re not even close.”
The 5-foot-9, 230-pound Richardson talked to Rice in the spring, when the Browns drafted him third overall. He might want to call Rice and ask for some tips about running on third-and-1.
After all, the 5-8, 212-pound Rice has gained a first down on all five of his third-and-1 runs this season. Only New York Jets running back Shonn Greene has rushed for more first downs on third-and-1 this season, converting on all seven of his attempts.
“I think we need to just execute more and make sure that we’re all on the same page,” Richardson said. “We do make mistakes. We’re all human, but we can’t do that. When we get on third-and-1, we got to compete. We got to move forward as far as making plays. We’ve got to make sure we make that down and get our pads down and make sure we’re moving the pile.”
Richardson ran twice on third-and-1 against the Chargers. He gained 11 yards on one attempt and lost 2 on the other.
“I don’t know if there’s a main problem or not,” offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. “Sometimes it can be the runner. Sometimes it can be the scheme and that’s coaching. Sometimes it can be somebody being physically beat at the point of attack, and that’s going to happen. Do we like it to happen? No, we’re coaching against it. We’re looking at who’s the best. We’re looking at us, and we’re looking at all those kinds of things. What do we do the best in that situation? We’re fighting to find a way to rectify that.”
The Ravens, meanwhile, will scratch and claw to keep Richardson in check. In the Browns’ 23-16 loss in Baltimore on Sept. 27, Richardson had only 14 carries for 47 yards (3.4), though he did more damage with four receptions for 57 yards. The Ravens’ defense is ranked 30th against the run (142.9 yards allowed) and has yielded 622 rushing yards in the past three games.
“I would say they are going to run the ball,” said Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees, a former Kent State head coach. “I wouldn’t think that would be rocket science. That’s what they do best anyhow, and right now, we haven’t done well defending the run, especially the last three games. So that’s what we are expecting them to do. We have to get up there and stop it.”
Richardson doesn’t plan on being stopped. He’s focused on plowing through defenders and proving he can be a force on third-and-1 just like the man who desperately wants his jersey.
“[My coaches] just tell me, ‘You’ve got to do whatever to get the first down,’ ” Richardson said. “And it’s one thing that’s always been ingrained — you’ve got to do whatever. If it’s dive in there, get down low, jump over the piles, whatever. But we’ve all got to get better at that. We’ve all got to move the pile. You’ve got to convert and you’ve got to make sure you’re doing whatever it takes to get that first down. That’s one thing we’re lacking in is third downs, and it’s one thing we’ve been working on all week. We’ll be better on Sunday.”
If Richardson makes good on his promise, Rice will be even more impressed.
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.