Cleveland Browns running back Jerome Harrison has been waiting for his big chance.
For his sake, and for that of the Browns as well, let’s hope he realizes it’s here. Now. This moment. This instant.
With Jason Wright, the previous second-stringer, having departed to the Arizona Cardinals in free agency three months ago, and with the once-again projected starter Jamal Lewis not practicing with the team right now for some undisclosed reason, Harrison is working almost exclusively with the No. 1 offense.
Yes, the man who, in his previous three seasons, served primarily as a third-down back – the man who was the people’s choice, the man who the fans wanted to see play more -- is working as the every-down player.
“It’s a good feel right now,” Harrison, a third-round pick from Washington State in the 2006 NFL Draft who played behind Reuben Droughns in 2006 and Lewis the past two seasons, said after Thursday’s OTA practice.
A much better feel for him than it has been, certainly.
Harrison easily posted career bests last season, but you’re talking about only 246 yards rushing and 12 pass receptions, which aren’t much for someone who, in his only two seasons at Washington State, was a workhorse and then some, rushing for 2,800 yards and 35 touchdowns and also catching 34 passes for 275 yards and a score.
But the compelling thing about Harrison’s brief appearances with the Browns the last two years is that he’s done so much with them. Though he carried only 34 times last season, he averaged a healthy 7.2 yards per attempt. In 2006, he averaged 6.2 yards in 23 tries.
He averaged 9.7 yards on his 12 catches last year, and 9.5 in 2007 – though only on two receptions. That’s not bad – not bad at all – for a running back.
So considering that, then, it has been frustrating at times to fans to see him leave the game and not return when it seems as if he’s really getting into a groove.
In a game at Buffalo last season, for instance, he raced for a 72-yard TD yet had just three carries in the game. He had a 33-yard run against the New York Giants but had only one more attempt that night.
Don’t ask him about either of those plays or anything else that’s in his rear-view mirror.
“That’s last year,” he said. “I don’t know anything about last year. I don’t live in the past.”
His comments are understandable. Harrison can’t change history, and the coaches who doled out the playing time are all gone. So no use worrying about that.
Plus new head coach Eric Mangini is a no-nonsense guy who doesn’t want players complaining. Just go with the flow and play, are his instructions.
Asked if he could continue to be content with a limited role once again, he said, “ ‘Content’ is a strong word. I don’t get down. I just keep working.
“Every player’s goal is to be an every-down player. Nobody comes into this league saying, ‘I want to be a third-down back.’ “
Mangini is implementing a smash-mouth, power running game. The 245-pound Lewis, who would just as soon run over defenders as run around them, and is the first Browns running back to put together back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 27 years, seems to be an excellent fit for that if he still has something left at 29 years old and with nine seasons already under his belt.
At just 5-foot-9 and with a listed weight of 205 pounds that must have been taken when he had large rocks in each pocket, Harrison is much more a darting, elusive back than a punisher.
But he knows he can’t change who he is, so it serves no purpose to dwell on it.
“I’ve been playing football since I was 6 years old,” he said. “The only thing that’s different now is that there are more people watching me play. I just have to keep practicing hard, and if I do get an opportunity, I have to take advantage of it.”
He added confidently, “If I do get that shot, I’ll be ready.”
Pssst, Jerome. Don’t look now, but that shot isn’t coming. It’s already here.