BEREA — It is not surprising that the highest-ranked unit for the Cleveland Browns comes with the emergence of the team’s top draft pick.
After last week’s 130-yard rushing performance against the Bengals, the Browns are ranked 7th in the AFC and tied for 11th overall in the NFL, with the Carolina Panthers.
Trent Richardson rushed for 109 yards on 19 carries — a 5.7 average — and a touchdown. He also caught four passes for 36 yards, including a score. Richardson’s 23-yard touchdown was one of the top highlight plays of the week, as he bowled over four Cincinnati Bengals defenders on his way to the end zone.
Richardson’s breakout game coincided with Brandon Weeden throwing for 322 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’ve always thought the quarterback’s best friend is an effective running game,” Pat Shurmur said.
The production from Richardson is what the Browns envisioned when they selected the former Alabama standout with the third overall in last April’s NFL Draft. However, arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Aug. 9 set back the plans throughout the preseason and into the season opener.
However, Richardson carried the ball the same amount of times in the opener with limited success—just 39 yards (2.1 avg.).
Shurmur said he wasn’t concerned about over using Richardson in the first game.
“I was interested to see how he would hold up in the game and how his body would respond after the game,” Shurmur said.
Against the Bengals, Richardson touched the ball 23 times and had another pass thrown his way that fell incomplete. He totaled 145 all-purpose yards.
“Twenty-three times,” Shurmur said. “Is that enough?”
Shurmur used Chris Ogbonnaya as the third down back against the Bengals and he led the team with six receptions for 73 yards (12.2 avg.) in his first action of the season. He also lost a fumble after a reception.
Ogbonnaya was a mild surprise as the Browns had touted Brandon Jackson as their third down back since signing him as an unrestricted free agent in 2011. But Jackson was a healthy inactive against the Bengals and Ogbonnaya assumed the role.
Shurmur said that Richardson can play every down and he’s sufficiently up to speed to pick up the necessary blocks needed in the passing game.
But, will he stay on the field all the time?
“Trent’s an every down back,” Shurmur said. “We will game plan to get the best players on the field every down.
“Obie (Ogbonnaya) was very effective for us, except the fumble,” he said. “For the second game, it was good for us to do that. That doesn’t mean (Richardson) won’t be out there on third down, because he can catch the ball and he can block.”
On Richardson’s touchdown reception, he was checked down by Weeden and he made the play after the catch, which begs the question, why not have Richardson on the field all the time, except when he needs a break?
“Each guy’s role goes up and down (each week),” Shurmur said. “I anticipate Trent will (continue to) touch the ball.”
Haslam Meets City Leaders; Talks Dome: Haslam met with Cleveland City Council on Wednesday to discuss various issues regarding Cleveland Browns Stadium, including the possibility of putting a retractable dome on the stadium.
Shurmur was asked about his thoughts on playing in a dome versus outside.
“Some of the charm I’ve experienced (in Cleveland), is the late season setting.”
However, Shurmur said he’s not an architectural engineer.
“I’ve played games in this league in different venues and there are advantages to both,” he said. “I like the setting we present on game day here. I am definitely the wrong guy to ask (about the feasibility).”
Haslam was back at practice talking with Shurmur before practice and with general manager Tom Heckert as practice went on.
Shurmur was asked about Haslam’s involvement since being introduced.
“That’s a question for him and what he’s evaluating,” Shurmur said. “He just spent a lot of money for a football team and I admire that.”
Shurmur said there’s only one way to impress whoever the owner is.
“Anybody that hires me or watches what we do, to impress him would be by winning games.”
The Return of Jim Brown: Former Browns great and Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown will return this weekend for a reunion with his former teammates and the occasion of Ernie Green’s induction into the legends club. Brown has not been back to Cleveland Browns Stadium in over two years since he was removed his role as advisor to owner Randy Lerner by Mike Holmgren. He boycotted his induction into the Browns Ring of Honor that was started in 2010.
The Browns are in the process of being sold by Lerner to Jimmy Haslam III and Haslam, as well as Holmgren have said they’d like to mend the fences with Brown.
Fatherly Advice: Shurmur said he treats QB Brandon Weeden the same as he does his son, who happens to be a quarterback at St. Edward’s High School.
“I look at him like my son and wouldn’t hold back anything,” Shurmur said. “I think that’s the relationship and I’ve always believed that (the quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator and myself) all work together.”
Shurmur said that Weeden responds well to coaching.
“You can talk to Brandon and he responds well.”
Shurmur said that Weeden is growing weekly in his preparation.
“He’s learning the progressions,” he said. “I thought he prepared well for the first game and prepared better for the second game. Part of being a pro is preparing well.
“Now what he needs to do is prepare even better.”
Schwartz Growth: The next step in the growth of rookie OT Mitchell Schwartz will be against DE Mario Williams and the Bills defensive line. Shurmur said that Schwartz is getting better each week.
“The defensive ends in this league all present problems and this (Williams) is long,” Shurmur said. “(Schwartz) is gaining experience and as he gains experience, he’ll be better.”
Shurmur said Schwartz has improved in his pass protection.
“I thought he was more consistent with his pass blocking.”
Secondary Issues: Shurmur said that he expects DB Sheldon Brown to be back at one of the cornerbacks positions this week after missing all but one play against the Bengals.
“We have a piece missing (Joe Haden),” Shurmur said. “I think we’re trying to find the right combination whether it be at safety or corner that works.”
Shurmur said that Brown will be at corner and since the Bills employ three wide receivers the majority of the time, Brown will be one of the three out there.
“Sheldon will be in there,” he said. “This is a team that plays most of the time with three receiver sets.”
It is unclear who the other cornerbacks will be among DB Dimitri Patterson, DB Trevin Wade, DB Johnson Bademosi and DB Buster Skrine. Another possibility is moving DB Usama Young from cornerback from free safety. Young has played some cornerback in his career.
Injury Update: LB Scott Fujita was at practice after cancelling a trip to New York scheduled for Tuesday to meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell concerning his role in Bounty Gate. Fujita said the reason he had to cancel was he was rehabbing his knee. TE Alex Smith was not at practice after suffering a concussion, while DL Billy Winn was doing individual drills after also suffering a head injury against the Bengals. LB James-Michel Johnson (oblique/ribs) did not practice. DB Ray Ventrone (hamstring) and DL Juqua Parker (leg) practiced.
Legends: Former Browns RB Ernie Green and DB Clarence Scott will be inducted into the Browns’ legends Club this weekend.