Four Cleveland Browns who could emerge from Freddie’s dog house
Running back D’Ernest Johnson
D’Ernest Johnson is the all-time rushing champion of the now-defunct Alliance of American football and won a job with the Browns by leading the team in the pre-season with 86 rushing yards and 4.3 yards per carry. At the beginning of the season, coach Freddie Kitchens and offensive coordinator Todd Monken loved Johnson for two weeks as the second back with Nick Chubb, and then forgot about him.
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For the season, Johnson had just 45 snaps on offense. However, when he was in the game he made yards (four attempts, 21 yards, 5.1 yards/carry), and more importantly, they threw the ball to him seven times and he caught the ball six times for 71 yards. Most of the damage was done in the first two games, and after that, he received no more carries and was thrown the ball only one time (which he caught).
However, he did a good job for special teams coach Mike Priefer, returning kickoffs and punts, and also excelled in punt coverage and kickoff coverage with seven special team tackles.
Part of the problem might have been a low grade in pass protection. He doesn’t need to pancake an oncoming linebacker, but he does need to pop him hard enough to slow him down and give Mayfield an extra split second he needs. This used to be a specialty of Duke Johnson‘s. Alternatively, they have decided that they liked their second tight end more than their second running back.
In any case, they got away from using Johnson. The other backup, Dontrell Hilliard, also had good numbers in limited snaps, especially prior to the emergence of Kareem Hunt in game nine.
In general Kitchens and Monkens did not like to run the ball (22nd in rushing attempts last year). When they did rush the ball, they liked Nick Chubb to get the carries and gave up on Johnson as a change-of-pace back after Week two. They really seemed determined to limit the touches to Chubb, Landry, and Beckham as much as possible.