BEREA: As many begin to wonder whether Trent Richardson’s body will cooperate with his ambition, he’s trying to avoid the dreaded “injury-prone” label like it’s a swarm of linebackers on his heels.
After battling injuries his entire rookie season and continuing to sit out organized team activities Thursday with a strained muscle in his right shin, Richardson took his best shot at convincing fans — and himself — that durability issues won’t derail his mission to become one of the greatest running backs of all time.
“It’s terrible [sitting out], but I know in my mind, well, everybody knows that it’s not going to be near like last year, being hurt and injured,” Richardson, the third overall pick in the 2012 draft, said after practice. “Injury-prone is not going to be me.”
Richardson has been sidelined since last week, when he alerted the team’s medical personnel about experiencing discomfort in his leg while running during OTAs. Still, he downplayed the severity of the injury and explained it didn’t warrant an MRI.
“Ain’t no biggie,” Richardson said. “Ain’t nothing to worry about. I could be out there, but they want to be cautious about it and just make sure I’m healthy when it’s time to be right and be right for [training] camp [in late July].”
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski sounded as if he’s leaning toward holding Richardson out of the team’s mandatory minicamp June 4-6.
“We’ll just wait and see until we get closer to minicamp next week and see what his participation level will be at that time,” Chudzinski said. “Again, we are being conservative with him.”
Richardson, who did light exercises on the sidelines Thursday, said he’ll understand if the Browns decide he should rest during minicamp. But he also made it clear he’ll be ready to practice if they give him the green light.
After minicamp, Richardson plans to work out in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla., with his mentor, Derrick Boyd, who coached him in track and football at Escambia High School. Richardson said he’ll also likely visit renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews to “make sure everything is good.” Andrews, who has a clinic in Pensacola, inserted screws into Richardson’s ankles when he was in high school and operated on his left knee last year.
Richardson realizes he’ll need to be at full strength to flourish in the power-running game being installed by Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner. He has received advice from former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, who also hails from Pensacola, former San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson and former Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin about playing in Turner’s system. Despite his injury, Richardson has continued to learn the new offense during meetings and walk-through sessions, and he expects to have a prominent role.
“Norv, he’s calling me and talking to me about getting the ball a lot and making sure I’m the bell cow and working hard,” Richardson said. “I tell him I’m going to be in the best shape I can be to make sure I can lead this team or put this team on my back every day.”
Quarterback Brandon Weeden knows Richardson’s health is crucial for the entire offense.
“It’s huge,” Weeden said. “We need Trent back, and that’s why him taking some time off now and getting 100 percent is, I think, a good idea. I told him the same thing. I said, ‘We need you in training camp and ready for Week 1.’ He’s going to make this offense better. Yeah, we talk about all the balls being thrown downfield and doing all those things, but you’ve got to hand it to [No.] 33. He’s too vital for this offense to be good, be productive. So we need him back ASAP.”
Richardson dealt with injuries all of last season. He underwent surgery Aug. 9 to remove a piece of loose cartilage from his left knee, which he also had scoped Feb. 3. He returned in time for the regular-season opener Sept. 9, even though he missed most of training camp and all four preseason games.
Then in Week 6, Richardson suffered two or three broken ribs against the Cincinnati Bengals. He played through the injury before being sidelined in the regular-season finale with a left high ankle sprain he suffered in Week 16 against the Denver Broncos.
During a news conference Wednesday in which Browns owner Jimmy Haslam named hall of fame running back Jim Brown a special adviser to the organization, Brown said Richardson “should be a real great one for us,” provided he can stay healthy.
“I say the only thing that can keep me from achieving my goals is me, and that’s keeping my head clear outside of football, on football, doing the right thing all the time,” Richardson said. “I don’t think it’s just the injuries, but that is something to think about in the long run and the short run. If Jim Brown says something, that’s always something you have to put in your head. Hey, this man did it. He knows what he’s talking about, so I might as well follow along and get on the right path and do what he tells me to do to make sure I stay injury free.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at https://ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.