There is no running back controversy in Cleveland. Jamal Lewis is, and will be, our feature back. Not only because he earned the right to lead this team, but also because it is in the best interest of the coaching staff, the other running backs, and the team in general.
He earned the right to lead this team. If it has been a while since you looked up Jamal Lewis' stats, let me refresh your memory.
In 2003, Lewis nearly set a new NFL single-season rushing record by rushing for 2,066 yards, leading the league. He fell just 39 yards short of the all-time single-season rushing record, which remains 2,105 yards, held by Eric Dickerson. Lewis joined Dickerson, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, and OJ Simpson as the only backs in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season.
Browns fans remember that year because during that season, Lewis also broke Corey Dillon's single-game rushing record of 279 yards by running for 295 yards against the Cleveland Browns.
In his previous nine seasons in the NFL, Lewis has produced seven-1,000 yard seasons. In 2005, he came up 94 yards short and in 2001, he was injured for the season.
He is the only Cleveland back since Reuben Droughns to have back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Even last year, with an anemic pass offense and a rickety offensive line he managed to gain 1,000 yards.
The coaches love his leadership and need his voice in the locker room.
In today’s Plain Dealer, Mangini had this to say about Lewis: "I've enjoyed watching him work with the younger guys. I think that's always the trademark of someone who's a pro and very confident in his abilities. He has a lot of great things to share with those guys. He spends time with them. He's just been a pleasure to deal with as a person in the things we've asked him to do."
Mangini needs Jamal Lewis to lead his running back corps this year. Harrison hasn’t shown that he can start, or even stay healthy through training camp for that matter. James Davis is obviously talented, but I think we can all agree he’s not ready to be a feature back. Give him a year to watch Jamal Lewis work through a season, and the entire organization will benefit from the knowledge Davis gains.
Harrison and Davis need more than Lewis's leadership, they also benefit from his smash-mouth style of play. Both players have better stats because they play with Lewis. They get to play against a defense that is used to being punched in the face.
Mangini's quote from today’s Plain Dealer: "I don't really look at it as once you hit 30, suddenly you fall off a cliff," Mangini said. "I've had a lot of older backs and been around a lot of older ones who've been productive. [Lewis is] in great shape. He works every day."
Last season, Mangini got enough carries into the hands of Thomas Jones for him to lead the AFC with 1,312 yards and 15 total touchdowns. Jones was 30 at the time.
Lewis should start the season but will see a reduction in the number of carries he gets. Harrison and Davis will benefit from the competition and the committee and, led by Lewis, will be very effective. They are running behind arguably the best offensive line in a very strong division. Barring injury, I would be surprised if Lewis doesn’t start every game this year for the Browns.
After losing to the Broncos last November, Lewis had this to say to his teammates: "This is the NFL, you can't call it quits until the game is over it looks to me like some people called it quits before that. Denver was down, but they didn't call it quits. They kept their heads up and they finished. We didn't do that two weeks in a row—at home."
Without naming names, Lewis said: "Some people need to check their egos at the door and find some heart to come out here and play hard. This is a man's game. The way we went out there and played two weeks in a row, finishing the same kind of way, it's not there. I think there are some men around here that need to check their selves, straight up. That's it."