BEREA: Browns coach Hue Jackson regrets not feeding the Crow enough last season, and he can’t see it happening again.



So Jackson is forecasting a true breakout year for starting running back Isaiah Crowell, whose contract situation will only give him more motivation to flourish.



“Got to run the ball more,” Jackson said Wednesday after the fourth practice of organized team activities. “I’d be the first to tell you that. I beat myself up about that. I’m a coach that likes to run the ball. But I think we all recognize where we were in games last year. Trying to play from behind is hard and understanding what our team was last year, feeling that you had to get off to a fast start to get ahead of a team because you knew how some things would unfold.



“I think Crowell is poised for a big year. I think he deserves it. He worked extremely hard a year ago, him and [backup running back] Duke [Johnson]. I think our running game needs to come to the forefront.”



Crowell would be more than happy to receive a greater workload a year after he rushed 198 times for a career-high 952 yards (4.8 average) and seven touchdowns to go along with 40 catches for 319 yards.



“I know the type of coordinator Hue is. He likes to run the ball,” Crowell said. “I feel like it’s going to be a monster year.”



The Browns need Crowell, 24, to produce his best season as much as he needs it.



With no proven answer at quarterback and needs in the receiving corps, the running game represents the offense’s best chance to become respectable coming off a 1-15 season. And the free-agent acquisitions of right guard Kevin Zeitler and center J.C. Tretter leave Jackson with little room for excuses about neglecting Crowell.



“[My message to Crowell is] go take it to another level,” Jackson said. “The guy had almost 1,000 yards a year ago when I didn’t hand him the ball. What can he have if I do hand him the ball? ... I’ve just got to turn around and give it to him, let him make it happen.”



As for Crowell’s contract, he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, and he knows the upcoming season will be vital in helping him earn the big payday he seeks.



“I’ve always been the underdog, so I always had to prove myself, prove that I’m as good as I am,” Crowell said. “So it’s not a problem for me.”



The Browns placed a second-round restricted free-agent tender on Crowell in February. Showing some frustration, he didn’t sign it until May 10 and skipped the team’s voluntary offseason workout program until OTAs began last week. He’s set to make $2.746 million in 2017 while playing under the tender.



“Everybody wants a long-term deal,” Crowell said. “That was one of my goals, but I’m just here right now trying to get better with my team and trying to have a winning season.”



Jackson said he had a candid conversation with Crowell about his contract situation.



“We all want to make those things happen as we go throughout this, and we don’t know that it can or it won’t,” Jackson said. “But I know this: You can’t do anything if you’re not here participating and playing. I think there’s all kind of ways to handle things, but these are his teammates and the guys he’s going to fight with this year, so he needs to be around them. He made the decision to be back here, and he’s done an outstanding job.”



Crowell vowed to do what’s best for him, but he still has hope the Browns will secure him for many years to come.



“Both sides, we’re trying to get something done,” he said. “But we’re trying to get it done right.”



The Browns signed Crowell as an undrafted free agent in 2014, the same year they drafted left guard Joel Bitonio in the second round and linebacker Christian Kirksey in the third round. Bitonio signed a five-year, $51 million contract extension in March. Kirksey signed a four-year, $38 million extension Tuesday.



Crowell insisted he’s happy for his teammates and doesn’t dwell on being left out.



“I know you’ve got to be patient,” he said. “God does things for a reason and does them on his timing, so I can’t really just say, ‘Oh, I should be now,’ or ‘I should’ve been then.’ I’m just waiting for my time.”



In the meantime, Crowell should be a key piece for a team he believes will “do something special” this year.



Borrowing a line from quarterback Brock Osweiler, Jackson quipped “go look at my film” to stress his history of running the ball before last season and his intent to do so again.



Crowell is convinced he could have done more in 2016, when he ranked 15th in the NFL in rushing yards. He was the only running back in the top 20 to finish with fewer than 200 carries, and he tied for seventh in yards per carry (4.8).



“If I had some of the carries that other running backs had, I know I would have the same yards, if not better,” Crowell said. “That’s how I see it, and I’m very confident in myself. I know the work I put in, and I know how talented I am.”



Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.