(This is the second in a preview of the Browns position by position as they head into training camp.)
BEREA—The Browns finished on a four game winning streak to end the 2009 season and finish 5-11. The streak most likely saved the job of Eric Mangini.
In those games the Browns completed a total of just 31 passes (6, 10, 8 and 7, respectively). Meanwhile, they rushed for 171-, 351-, 164- and 214 yards.
Many NFL teams complete 31 passes in one game—let alone four.
The rushing attack was so dominant in those games that the Browns were able to play the ball control style of offense that Mangini dreams about.
It is no secret the Browns hope to carry on their late season rushing success. Here are the candidates as the Browns head to training camp.
Jerome Harrison— (5-9, 205) - Harrison was the second coming of Adrian Peterson in the last three games. He totaled 561 yards in the three games with five touchdowns.
He carried the ball 34 times for 286 yards and three touchdowns against the Chiefs and then had 39 carries for 148 yards and a score against the Raiders. He finished the season with 33 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown against the Jaguars.
But can he do it for a whole season?
Harrison finished the season with 862 yards on 194 carries and five touchdowns. He also tied for the team lead with 34 receptions for 220 yards and two touchdowns.
A fifth-round draft choice in the 2006 NFL Draft, Harrison was never really given a chance to play on a regular basis in his first three seasons despite averaging 4.8 yards a carry and 7.1 per reception.
The knock on him has been his lack of picking up the blitz on passing downs, but Mangini said he has improved immensely in the area.
Most fans felt Harrison showed in the final stretch of the season he could be the feature back, but the Browns traded up in the second-round to draft Montario Hardesty.
Montario Hardesty—(6-0, 225) - Hardesty has been used with the first team in the OTAs and the minicamps and seems to be a very real possibility to be the Browns feature running back this season.
A second-round draft choice on a 5-11 team would usually start, but when a team trades up in the second-round to get a player, it means they really like the player a lot.
The knock on Hardesty at Tennessee was that he was injury-prone, but Hardesty rushed the ball 282 times last season in college. The Browns are counting on Hardesty to be able to be a big contributor this season.
Peyton Hillis—(6-1 250) - Hillis is in his third year from Arkansas. He was a seventh-round draft choice of the Broncos in 2008. He led the Broncos in rushing in 2008 in 12 games before a hamstring injury put him on injured reserve. He ended his rookie season with 343 yards and five touchdowns. He also caught 14 receptions for 179 yards with one touchdown.
Hillis came over in the Brady Quinn trade and he’s the type of player that Mangini likes. He’s versatile as he can play running back, fullback, catch passes out of the backfield, play in goal line and short yardage situations.
Lawrence Vickers was the only fullback on the roster in 2009 and Hillis can serve as a backup fullback if Vickers were to go down. He blocked for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones while at Arkansas.
In 2010, Hillis only had 20 carries for 77 yards and one touchdown to go with five receptions and 57 yards.
James Davis—(5-11, 218) - Davis was taken in the sixth-round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He had an outstanding preseason and looked as though he was might emerge as a feature back, but was shelved for the season after suffering a shoulder injury on Oct. 3 in an after practice ‘opportunity’ session.
Davis had just nine carries for 15 yards and four receptions for five yards. The Clemson product exploded for an 80-yard run against the Lions in the preseason.
Chris Jennings—(5-10, 218) - Jennings came out of nowhere as he was signed as a free agent after the Montreal Alouettes for the CFL released him. Jennings was able to take advantage of Davis’ injury and ended up with 220 yards on 63 carries with one touchdown. In addition, Jennings had nine receptions for 56 yards.
Jennings biggest contribution was a 20 carry, 73-yard rushing game to help the Browns defeat the Steelers on Dec. 10.
Lawrence Vickers—(6-0, 250) - Vickers is the only true fullback on the roster. During the final stretch of the season when the Browns were rushing so well, Vickers was blocking at a Pro Bowl level. He vowed during minicamp that he will make teams regret not voting him to the Pro Bowl last season.
Vickers, along with Harrison, were late round finds by Phil Savage in the 2006 draft as Vickers was taken in the sixth-round.
Vickers finished last season with no carries, but had eight receptions for 27 yards and a score. In his career, Vickers has carried the ball 28 times for 76 yards and has 37 receptions for 256 yards and three touchdowns.
It will all depend on preseason production, but the running back position should be quite a battle. It seems that Harrison, Hardesty and Vickers are locks, but beyond that it’s hard to figure.
It would seem that between Hillis, Davis and Jennings, there would only be two roster spots at the most and maybe just one. Hillis would have the inside track because of his versatility. It would appear that Davis would have an edge over Jennings. If the Browns were sold on Davis, I doubt they would have drafted Hardesty as highly as they did.
(Next, we’ll look at the wide receiver position).