Duke Johnson wanted out and got out. D'Ernest Johnson, who wants in in the worst way, put his best foot forward in the Browns' win at Indy.

BEREA The Browns have subtracted one D. Johnson from the roster. The D. Johnson who remains would seem to be attempting an impossible run.

Every Browns fan came to know running back Duke Johnson. But who is this D'Ernest Johnson?

If few are even bothering to wonder, it counts for something that John Dorsey is one of them. The general manager tends to keep on open mind on his undrafted rookies.

It counts that one of them is Freddie Kitchens, the former running backs coach who on Saturday, as head coach, called the offensive plays in a win at Indianapolis.

It counts that one of them is Baker Mayfield, who has made it this far after being a two-time walk-on in college.

Let D'Ernest touch on that story ...

"Baker gave me a ride home after a practice," Johnson said recently. "We talked about things. One of the things he said was, 'You're going to make mistakes. Just learn from them.'"

Home for now is the team hotel. Camp is winding down. Dorsey is inside the two-week warning in terms of "final cut day," Aug. 31.

The D. Johnson who remains earned a team-high 13 touches at Indianapolis. He ran 10 times for 53 yards. He caught the only three balls thrown his way for another 26 yards.

He launched the game's first scoring drive with an 11-yard run over left tackle and kept it rolling with a 10-yard catch and run to the 2.

After the Colts tied the game, the underdog from Immokalee broke a 15-yard run on second-and-6 to take the Browns into Colts territory. On first-and-goal from the 6, he got open out of the backfield and caught a touchdown pass from Garrett Gilbert.

Never heard of this D. Johnson? He was not even the leading rusher in his final season at South Florida.

In a 2017 game against Dorsey's alma mater, Connecticut, South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers and running back Darius Tice each made 16 carries. Johnson made seven. One of his carries gave South Florida its first touchdown. Later, the Bulls put away Connecticut when an 11-yard catch and run from Johnson produced a touchdown and a 27-7 lead.

Johnson is immersed in the sweat of the moment. One can find him during practice seeking out starting running back Nick Chubb for advice.

"It's just football," he says. "You've got to come out here and have fun. Everything else will take care of itself.

"I'm learning from those in front of me, watching them and see how they play, and you always want to ask them questions. I go to Nick and Dontrell (Hilliard) and Kareem (Hunt).

"I try to be in the right position to make a play. If I make a mistake ... move on to the next play. I used to be bad at that. I would get mad. Now ... it's over. Move on."

The Browns wish to avoid wearing out Chubb while they wait for Hunt to get through his eight-game suspension. They want an extra receiving threat out of the backfield, which Duke Johnson certainly was in his four years as a Brown, with 235 catches for 2,170 yards.

No one confuses D'Ernest Johnson with Edgerrin James, the back who went from Imokalee High School to an All-Pro career. But Johnson was a very good prospect coming out of Imokalee, a town south of Tampa, where the Browns will play preseason Game 3 Friday.

Besides running, returning kicks, punting and playing defense, Johnson was a strong receiving back for Imokalee. He had 44 catches across his junior and senior years.

In his junior year at South Florida, in the 2016 Birmingham Bowl, he caught six passes for 95 yards, including a 35-yard TD that helped sink South Carolina 46-39. He finished his career as USF's all-time leader in all-purpose yardage with 4,186 yards, including 1,796 career yards rushing, as he set school records for a running back with 73 receptions for 909 yards.

Johnson's football career seemed to be over in 2018. He found work as a personal trainer in Gainesville. Then he got a call from the Orlando Apollos in the Alliance of American Football.

After the Apollos' opener against the Atlanta Legends in February, The Tampa Bay Times carried a story on overlooked players who might use the new league to revive their careers. An excerpt:

"None stood out more than D’Ernest Johnson. He had five carries for 35 yards, and sprung out of the backfield for a 33-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter."

Johnson told the Times, "It feels good pulling pads on again, man. Long time coming.”

The league soon folded. In May, Dorsey asked Johnson if he would be interested in joining the Browns.

As August winds to cut day, Johnson is trying to string together good plays and minimize the bad ones. As he put it:

"I just say, Lord, help me. Guide me. Let me forget about that last play."

Just inside the two-week warning, he is putting all he can muster into the next play.

 

Reach Steve at 330-580-8347 or steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP