The closer the regular season gets, the more it sounds like the Cleveland Browns will have their rookie running back available.
General manager Tom Heckert confirmed that report during the Browns' pregame radio show Friday, stating "there's a pretty good chance" Richardson plays in Week 1, according to Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal.
His return, even in a more limited capacity, will be a big boost for a Browns offense that figures to be among the NFL's youngest in 2012.
Here's how the Browns are expecting him to contribute:
As a Workhorse, Kind of
The Browns didn't draft Richardson third overall to be a specialty back. That we can guarantee.
But let's keep in mind that offensive coordinator Brad Childress has experience working with high picks at the running back position, especially those who have an injury history.
Back in 2007, Childress was the head coach when the Minnesota Vikings took Adrian Peterson No. 7 overall. While highly talented, Peterson came into the NFL with concerns about injuries (shoulder) he suffered at Oklahoma.
Instead of pushing a huge amount of touches, Peterson carried just 238 times and caught 19 passes during his rookie season. Rarely has Peterson missed time in his NFL career before a knee injury late last season.
While some are expecting a workhorse-type load for Richardson in 2012, that's probably not going to happen with Childress helping run the show and Richardson's knee still on the mend as the season begins. Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson should and will get carries in this offense.
Still, Peterson contributed over 1,600 yards of total offense in 14 games as a first-year player. Richardson may not get to those numbers, but he's talented enough as a running back to get close. There's a reason most have called Richardson the best back coming out of college since Peterson.
Toughness and Tough Yards
Few would argue that "toughest division in football" isn't a title tailor-made for the AFC North. Richardson's running style might just be the perfect addition to this division.
The power Richardson ran with at Alabama is clearly evident on his college tape. He almost always pushed the pile forward a yard or two after initial contact.
As the Browns' passing game with Brandon Weeden and a bevy of young receivers grows from the bottom up, Richardson will be asked to get those tough yards in between the tackles. He is plenty capable of getting them, too.
And for those who say big rushing numbers can't be had in this still-limited offense, I suggest you watch film of the Browns' 2010 season with Peyton Hillis carrying the football.
Richardson is as powerful as Hillis, but with speed that leaves Hillis in the dust. On his best days, Hillis was beating eight- and nine-man fronts.
If he's not too limited early on, Richardson can get to Hillis' 2010 numbers of 1,177 yards and 11 scores.
A Fallback for Weeden
The Browns' rookie quarterback is falling into a situation with very few established playmakers in his passing game. There is potential, but this is still an offense that is learning how to play together when the quarterback drops back to throw.
That's where the Browns plan on inserting Richardson, who can take some pressure off the passing game.
Richardson can help set up more manageable down-and-distances for the offense, and he was a better blocker and receiver at Alabama than many people know. Not having the preseason will hurt him in pass protection, but this is still a player that demonstrated time and time again that he was willing to block people in the passing game.
Richardson also caught almost 70 passes during his three-year run at Alabama. His hands are underrated. Eventually, he'll make a big impact in the passing game.
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