Cleveland Browns: Is there a 1,000-yard rusher on the roster?
The Cleveland Browns have not had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2010. Can Isaiah Crowell or Duke Johnson break that streak this year?
An overshadowed component of a successful NFL offense is the running game as, in today’s pass-happy league, running backs are simply undervalued.
However, a steady run game opens up and provides balance to the offensive attack. The struggles at the running back position for the Cleveland Browns have too often been forgotten with so many woes at the quarterback position. The fact of the matter is that the Browns have not had a long-term workhorse runner since returning to the league in 1999.
But now the Browns have two young prospects in their backfield in Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, a pair of players that head coach Hue Jackson has expressed his excitement for, claiming that “their talent is extreme.”
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While serving as the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals, Jackson used his own duo of backs in Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard to produce a solid run game and will look to duplicate that success with Crowell and Johnson.
“I really think Isaiah Crowell is a really good running back. I think he’s going to have a sensational season, I really do.” – Hue Jackson
With the Browns, Crowell runs between the tackles and will be heavily used in early down situations and power run plays. Crowell doesn’t have elite game breaking speed or game-changing potential, however runs hard and will finish runs with a burst.
Crowell is coming off a season where he rushed for 706 yards and scored four touchdowns, which was considered a disappointment by many last year after a stellar rookie season in 2014. Entering his third season in the league, Crowell might be set for a breakout year with an offensive-minded head coach directing the run schemes. Jackson is all in on Crowell to be his workhorse in 2016, as the team did not add any other backs through free agency or the draft.
The other component to the Browns rushing attack will be second-year back Johnson.
As a rookie, Johnson was most effective as a receiver out of the backfield with 61 receptions, which was second among all rookies, behind just Amari Cooper of the Oakland Raiders. Johnson will be a pivotal piece to the offense, as he can provide lighting in a bottle for the offense.
Johnson is a speedy and shifty playmaker that can be deadly with the ball in open space. The job of Jackson is to maximize the playmaking ability of Johnson and get him the ball in space. The Browns can utilize Johnson on outside runs and tosses, screens and lining him up in the slot as a receiver.
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Both Crowell and Johnson have different skill sets from one another, which can bolster the Browns run attack. Crowell and Johnson are young and are just scratching their potential, while Jackson is accustomed to producing 1,000 yard backs as Hill ran for the century mark in 2014.
For the Browns to improve and be successful this season, a large portion of their fate rests on the shoulders of the running backs. In Jackson’s run scheme, Crowell should be able to reach the 1,000-yard mark as the feature back for the Browns, while Johnson will be featured in passing situations and provide big-play potential.
If either Johnson or Crowell reach the 1,000-yard mark it will be the first time for a Browns running back since 2010, when one-year wonder Peyton Hillis ran for 1,177 yards.
Former Browns running back Ernest Byner has been working with the running backs through off-season workouts and believes the backs have great upside.
“These guys have the ability to be special,” Byner said, “they have the ability to make others better.”
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As training camp approaches the running backs will be an interesting story to follow, but Jackson is confident in the ability of his guys,.
“Those two guys are as good as I’ve seen in a while.”