BEREA: When Trent Richardson met new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the Browns running back said the first thing Turner said was, “I had Emmitt Smith.”
Since Richardson played in the shadow of Hall of Fame running back Smith at Escambia High School in Pensacola, Fla., those might not have been welcome words for the 22-year-old. Turner could have added to the pressure Richardson hasn’t been able to escape.
But Richardson has always said he feels honored to be mentioned in the same breath with Smith. So he didn’t take Turner’s words negatively.
In fact, if Richardson did his homework on Turner and Smith before this week’s voluntary minicamp, that could help to explain why Richardson said he was “flying around” during Tuesday’s first practice.
The main reason was that Richardson deemed himself 100 percent after knee surgery and two broken ribs slowed him during his rookie season. He said about six weeks ago he was able to breathe without restriction and sleep soundly. He said he feels skinny because he’s no longer wearing padding around his chest.
“I wish y’all could be out there to watch the whole practice,” Richardson said, enthused about how good he felt.
The third overall pick in last year’s draft, Richardson was already determined to prove that the back who averaged 3.6 yards per carry last season wasn’t really him. He still set Browns rookie records with 950 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, surpassing the legendary Jim Brown in both categories.
The arrival of Turner should turn up the volume on Richardson’s production.
Turner became the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive coordinator in 1991, Smith’s second season, and held that position for three years. The 17th overall pick in 1990, Smith rushed for more than 1,486 yards every season he played for Turner.
Smith’s 1,713 yards in 1992 was the second-highest total of his career; his 18 rushing touchdowns that same year were his third-most.
“For Emmitt to be under him and to learn from him, that’s big for me just to have him around,” Richardson said of Turner.
During Turner’s 28 years in the league, including stints as coach of the Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers, Turner’s offensive system produced the NFL’s leading rusher five times with three different players — Smith (1991-93), Ricky Williams (2002) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2007).
New coach Rob Chudzinski’s coup of hiring Turner was lauded mainly for what he would do for Browns’ quarterbacks, but it went overlooked what Turner would do for the running backs.
Especially a healthy Richardson.
Starting with knee surgery on Aug. 9, Richardson admitted he was severely restricted as a rookie. His broken ribs weren’t revealed until after the season and Richardson said the full story still isn’t known.
“It was tough, man,” he said of 2012. “There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t say and I don’t know if I can really say it now. There would be times I really couldn’t get going up until like Friday and I had to be out there Sunday. I can’t wait ’til this year. I think there’s going to be a big smile on everybody’s faces after the games and not too many sad faces asking us what we could have done and what we should have done.”
There are other issues that could derail Richardson’s promising future. A civil suit was filed against him on March 22 in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court over a post-game celebration at a Cleveland nightclub in December that led to an angry altercation at his home in Columbia Station. Richardson declined to address the situation, saying he would explain when he could.
For players with his high profile, trouble always lurks.
Richardson must also adjust to the new rule passed in March that prohibits running backs from lowering the crown of their helmet to gain extra yardage. At the NFL owners meetings, video of Richardson running over Philadelphia Eagles safety Kurt Coleman and knocking off Coleman’s helmet was shown before the vote.
“If I think about it, it may just slow me down,” Richardson said. “I understand they’re trying to make the NFL as safe as they can for players in the long run and for the present. I’m not saying I’m going to switch up my running style, but I’m going to do whatever it takes to not hurt nobody else or not to injure myself, either. So if I get flagged, it happens. It’s a split-second decision.”
There are potential pitfalls for Richardson on and off the field. If he manages to avoid them, Richardson could once again follow in Smith’s footsteps as Turner unlocks his game-changing potential.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.