As the NFL preseason is officially underway, the Cleveland Browns have been a team expected to make a major leap in the NFL for the 2015-16 season.
Amid being in arguably the toughest division in all of the National Football League, Cleveland has finally developed an identity of their own. Led by face-of-the-franchise, Joe Haden, the smash mouth defensive approach has worked as the defense is what kept this Browns team in most games last season, whereas the offense had little to show for. The only true spark the Browns had on offense was the unexpected, yet impressive, running back core.
Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West both showed flashes of great potential and proved to work exceptionally well together as a committee. The Crow racked up 607 yards rushing last season averaging 4.1 yards per carry while also adding an impressive eight touchdowns as well.
On the other hand, West totaled 673 yards rushing, averaged 3.9 yards per carry, and added five total touchdowns (four rushing).
Both players were off of the radar for most teams last season, however with both emerging as true threats in the previous season, that certainly will not be the case this time around. Or at least we thought.
Browns Running Back Coach, Wilbert Montgomery, expressed his concern over the shape and work ethic of the running backs in camp stating they’re not in ‘tip-top shape.’ Montgomery would continue by adding, “I think that was a total setback, and now they are climbing back uphill and that’s why they’re taking a back seat right now.”
That doesn’t sound convincing as a Browns fan and it without a doubt worries myself more than just a little bit. Most would think this opens the door wide open for rookie running back, Duke Johnson, who was selected in the third-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. An explosive running back that it lethal from anywhere on the field, Johnson should expect to be playing right away for this Browns team as soon as week 1 as he adds an entirely new dimension to the running attack. However, Johnson has been battling injuries all off-season and actually has been dismissed from the preseason opener as well.
With none truly impressing this off-season and several having issues with hamstrings, the rumors have been circulating around a certain free agent and the Browns. Yes, I’m referring to Ray Rice. The ex-Baltimore Raven, who’s running back coach in Baltimore for six seasons just so happens to be Wilbert Montgomery, was suspended for the 2014-15 NFL season for physically abusing his girlfriend in an elevator. Rice and his now-wife are happily married and have moved on from the unfortunate incident that led to the the running backs unemployment. While most saw the tape and were shocked and disgusted, Rice served his suspension and has been looking for a new team since the end of last year. Although he was a great player for the Ravens, Rice has struggled to find a new home due to the PR hit the team that takes him will absorb.
Rice has mentioned he is in the “best shape of his career” as he has worked out continuously over the course of his time on the market. The Cleveland Browns got swirled in the rumors when Owner, Jimmy Haslam, tipped off ESPN’s Bob Holtzman admitting that he gave the front office the thumbs up to sign the veteran running back. However, Head Coach Mike Pettine stated that it’s “too early” to discuss adding Rice to the Browns as the team has a core of young running backs already.
Considering the amount of injuries that have kept Browns running backs off of the field, perhaps the Rice-To-Cleveland doesn’t seem so absurd after all. As of now, the transaction still is nothing but a light rumor although it is certainly a rumor to watch.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Matt Stevenson