Obstacles? What obstacles?
Before his final year at Alabama, Trent Richardson told Bruce Feldman of ESPN The Magazine that he had been writing down his goals each morning:
"It's easy to set a goal and slack off or forget about it. But when you write it down, you're saying, 'I want to achieve this, and I don't want to fail.'"
The result of that goal-scribbling? Fourteen games played, 1,679 rushing yards, 21 rushing touchdowns and 29 receptions for 338 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
While that worked out in a big way for the star Crimson Tide running back, carrying an NFL team on his back may be just a tad bit more difficult.
Nevertheless, the rookie running back told Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal:
When I get done with this game in the NFL, hopefully they can say that this guy’s gotta be compared to Richardson. Now they compare folks to Marshall Faulk to be one of the greatest. When it comes down to it, the sky is the limit for my game.
Richardson is a patient runner, he’s powerful, he is fast enough, he’s a good blocker in pass protection and he has good hands.
And he's tough: An impressive 49.7 percent of his rushing yards in 2011 came after contact (787 of 1,583).
Oh, did we mention he’s got a tremendous work ethic and universally high marks for character?
So what could go wrong?
James Harrison, Rey Maualuga, Ray Lewis. And that’s only three of the defenders Mr. Richardson must face in 2012. Did I mention he gets to play them twice each?
Now that's quiet strength
Ironically, it took a game in which he could not play to remind NFL fans that Ryan Clark is a vastly underrated commodity at safety.
Troy Polamalu cannot be the demon with the flying hair if Clark isn’t anchoring the entire safety level of the defense. Just ask Demaryius Thomas.
It’s Clark who is going to be in Trent Richardson’s way in 2012.
One of the Cleveland rusher’s best talents is identifying a hole and accelerating through it. Trent may not beat speedster WRs Travis Benjamin or Josh Gordon in a sprint, but he reaches his top speed very, very quickly.
If he can get past the Steelers' linebackers, it’s going to be all up to Clark. Because you don’t seriously see a cornerback bringing down No. 33 alone do you? I didn’t think so.
However, let’s not skip over that whole “get past the linebackers” thing. Easier said than done.
Can we please stop with the ageism when it comes to this unit? The Steelers defense may be old, but they ranked first in the NFL in points allowed last year: 14.2 per game.
And this defense held eighth place versus the run, allowing a touch less than 100 yards per game.
Ah, but how did they do against the best running back in their division?
Let’s just say that Warren Sapp’s infamous Inside the NFL accusation that the Blitzburghers were “old, slow and over” came after facing Ray Rice.
The diminutive Raven torched the Steel Curtain for 149 total yards and two touchdowns. See, it’s possible.
I’m just happy to be here, very happy to be getting paid like I am. It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing to live your dream”
—(Trent Richardson to Matt Florjancic for clevelandbrowns.com)
Terrell Suggs’ Achilles injury is fantastic news to Cleveland Browns fan. At least for the Week 4 battle between these divisional foes.
That may be an unfeeling, despicable and unsportsmanlike sentiment—but try to find anyone in Cleveland who doesn’t share it.
In spite of this, the fierce Baltimore defenders allowed less than 93 yards per game on the ground. That was second in the league, by the way.
Suggs accounted for 50 solos tackles (70 with assists), 14 sacks, two interceptions and seven forced fumbles. So, yeah, his absence matters.
Somewhat lost in the Suggs story are the departures of Jarrett Johnson, Cory Redding and defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.
However, anyone who thinks that Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis are going to go easy on Richardson just because he’s a good kid needs to get in out of the heat.
He’s got a special ability when the ball’s in his hands. You can tell when you hand it to him, he takes it from you. He runs hard, and I’m really anxious to see him when he puts the pads on.
—Brandon Weeden (to Nate Ulrich, ohio.com)
Mr. Weeden and the revamped O-line might wish to take note of the 48 sacks perpetrated by the Purple Birds last year.
Arm wrestling the tiger
In 2011, the striped cats sported the ninth overall defense in the NFL when it came to giving up points. They were seventh in total yards allowed, ninth in passing yards surrendered and gave up an average of 104.7 rushing yards each week.
Cleveland fans would probably happily accept almost 105 yards per game out of their new rushing stud.
However, in reality, that will not be enough. It may be totally unfair to expect a RB to gain more than 100 yards per game, but the Browns must dominate on the ground until the aerial component of the West Coast offense gels.
On that front, Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick’s recent knee injury is a bonus to Brandon Weeden and all Cleveland WRs.
The Browns face Cincy in Weeks 2 and 6, so anything that will help their passing game would be a welcome lift to a new group of WRs and a rookie QB.
Rey Maualuga may not be suspended now that his assault case was mediated, while URFA Vontaze Burfict remains a walking time bomb.
It's no guarantee that a Bengals defense which took another substantial step towards AFC North-level ferocity will keep their playmakers on the field. Every Bengals misstep makes Browns fans smile.
Via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal:
There’s a lot of legacy behind great running backs that came through here, especially filling in the shoes for Jim Brown. Those are big shoes.
All yours, dude.
The pervasive feeling in NFL fan nation is that the Cleveland Browns are praying for the kind of success enjoyed by rookie Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton and his equally “green” rookie WR. Really?
That’s asking quite a bit. Or is it?
In 2011, the Bengals offense as a whole managed 111 ground-game yards each week, less than 210 passing yards and only 21.5 points.
Power back Cedric Benson (age 29) played in 15 games, carried the ball 273 times for 1,067 yards and six touchdowns. He caught 15 passes for 82 yards.
And they made the playoffs.
When Joe Flacco was a rookie passer, he played with a guy named Ray Rice but without Jonathan Ogden guarding his blind side.
Flacco finished his first NFL season with a 60 percent completion percentage, almost 3,000 yards passing, 14 TDs and 12 INTs.
Rice gained 4.2 yards per carry on 107 attempts. He was not the starting back.
He shared carries with Willis McGahee and had two pretty outstanding fullbacks in Le’Ron McClain and Lorenzo Neal. All of them together managed almost 2,400 yards, 20 TDs and 132 first downs.
And they made the playoffs.
Take a look Cleveland—those are your 2012 numbers with Richardson in the backfield. Doesn’t look so silly now to say he’s going to be 50 percent of the offense, does it?
Okay, sure, Brandon Jackson will get the other 10 percent of the plays and Brandon Weeden will pass the ball 40 percent of the time. Maybe. Depending upon the QB/WR learning curve.
Richardson said, via Nat Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal:
When we get everybody on one page, I know we’re gonna win this year. I’m not saying, ‘I think.’ I know we’re gonna win this year with the program we have and the players that we have and the high expectations that we have for ourselves.
The 2011 Louisiana State University Tigers were not an NFL team. They did not have an NFL defense. But they were very, very good.
During the regular-season matchup, Alabama’s Richardson ran the ball 23 times for 89 yards and caught five passes for another 80 yards against the Tigers.
In the next game against LSU, Trent ran for 96 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown.
These stats were compiled despite the fact that the entire LSU game plan was to stop Trent Richardson.
1. Cleveland's new primary offensive weapon faced eight of the top-ranked college defenses in 2011.
2. He accounted for 169 yards from scrimmage against No. 1 LSU's second-ranked defense, 54 more yards than his closest competition.
3. While playing against the toughest defenses inside and outside of the SEC, Trent Richardson was responsible for 36.7 percent of the Crimson Tide offense.
As usual, nothing is more fun than scientific sports trivia. Or maybe that's just me.
On ESPN’s Sports Science on Dec 21st 2011, NFL fans learned the following fascinating tidbits about the latest running back star in the league:
1. Of an estimated full 180 degrees of peripheral vision, Richardson processes all of that visual data 12 percent faster than the average person. That explains a lot.
2. Richardson's rushing velocity keeps getting knocked in the speed-crazy NFL, but he was clocked faster than 50 percent of 2011 NFL RBs, including Mark Ingram.
3. Top-end speed of 20 miles per hour. Sure, we can all run 20 miles per hour. Right.
4. Richardson's agility was explained as the ability to exert 750 lbs of “downforce” as he changes direction.
5. He lowers his center of gravity by 40 percent during directional shifts.
6. That 475 lbs he can bench press? When employing a stiff arm, all of that force is applied in perfect alignment along the direction in which the bones are strongest. Well, no wonder they all fall down.
Come on, you know that's great stuff!
You just learn if you got goals and you got dreams you can't ever give up. Always set your goals and always set your standards high, because at the end of the day you're trying to reach for what you want in life.
While you have the photo of Richardson at the ESPY’s fresh in your head, take a look at this amateur video of Trent in high school.
Look past the focus issues and see what it takes to drag yourself out of poverty. Strength of character counts.
Personally, the very idea of seeing James Harrison across the line of scrimmage makes me want to hide under the bed.
However, when you come from a neighborhood where making it to the age of majority without getting shot or put into prison is a major accomplishment, maybe the Steelers linebacker isn’t the worst thing you’ve faced.
As young Mr. Richardson said to the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot:
"It's a miracle that I've gotten to this point. Now that I'm here, I want to be remembered as the most dominant player to ever play the game."
Well, when you put it that way…