The 2009 season has officially come to a close for the Cleveland Browns. After a weak start and going 1-11, Cleveland finished the regular season at 5-11, an improvement on 2008.
A lot of injuries left a lot of questions going into the next season, but one thing that isn't a question anymore is the talent of Jerome Harrison. So where does that leave the running game for 2010?
1. Jerome Harrison
Seventy-seven carries over the course of three seasons, had been the extent of his NFL career under Romeo Crennel. The fans were restless and up in arms yelling to get the ball to Harrison more, and had hoped that Crennel's dismissal would mean more carries. In Eric Mangini's first season however, it appeared that he again would be overlooked.
Then it happened, James Davis went on injured reserve, then Jamal Lewis went on injured reserve. And what occurred, low and behold, was the emergence of Jerome Harrison, finally.
This season Harrison ended up picking up 194 carries for 862 yards. Garnering a 4.4 yard per carry average. With that average, a mere 33 more touches would have earned him his first ever thousand yard season. Sadly enough, in seven of those games, he received less than 10 carries, and three games he didn't even play in.
You really have to ask the question, oh my, what could have been huh?
Assuming next year he stays the same caliber, and believe me that he'll only get better; if he gets even just 20 touches a game with that 4.4 average, he'll wind up with 1408 yards.
Through all the concerns that he was too small and too fragile to be a featured back in the NFL, Jerome Harrison has answered that call defiantly to close out the 2009-2010 season.
2. James Davis
At Clemson, he came back for his senior season after being rated a second round draft pick, and suffered behind a recently NFL departed offensive line. Of course, splitting carries with CJ Spiller didn't help his cause, and he went unnoticed in the NFL draft until the sixth round.
That changed when he was drafted to Cleveland however, where he dazzled with his speed and cuts in training camp, and big things were once again anticipated for him.
All the promise, all the hope, all the excitement, blown away with one post-practice drill and a trip to Cleveland's overloaded injured reserve list.
Prior to that, Davis carried the ball 24 times for 186 yards in the preseason, and was expected to share time with Lewis while developing this season. Unfortunately, that shoulder injury put an end to all of that, leaving simply more questions about the state of the rushing game.
3. Chris Jennings
A nice surprise from the CFL and practice squad, Jennings had an average season as the short yardage back behind Harrison. While he has been sufficient in a fill-in role, I wouldn't expect him to be on the active roster next year.
Jennings put up 220 yards on 63 carries, and posted a mediocre 3.5 yards. It may be worthwhile keeping him around, but a demotion to the practice squad appears to be in his future. At 24 years old, he still has a lot of room to develop.
4. Free Agency
Free agency this year could bring another running back to Cleveland. Mike Holmgren doesn't look down on signing higher-profile free agents, like Mangini does, which may be a good or bad thing. So with that bit of knowledge, three running backs jump out on the 2010 UFA list.
-LenDale White, 25, Tennessee: With Chris Johnson further establishing himself as an elite running back in the NFL, White becomes expendable, and will probably test the market as a featured back.
-Mike Bell, 27, New Orleans: Bell has a great comeback season this year replacing the role of Duece McAllister, but with Pierre Thomas to re-sign this offseason also, it's possible Bell won't be back next year as a Saint. Testing the waters of free agency could see him land as a starter somewhere else.
-Chester Taylor, 30, Minnesota: The only reason Taylor is a backup is that he has the misfortune, or fortune depending how you look at it, of being on a team with Adrian Peterson. Taylor still has a few good years left in his legs and could be great in any team's backfield rotation.
In the first official mock draft with the finalized top ten draft order, Todd McShay now predicts CB Joe Haden to make his way to the shores of Lake Erie with the number seven overall pick.
Getting Joe Haden's abilities opposite of Eric Wright would become arguably the most shut-down corner combination in football, especially given their tendencies for interceptions. In Ryan's 46 defense, man to man cornerback coverage is vital, assuming Holmgren doesn't turn it to a 4-3.
With Harrison's emergence, there really is no true reason to take a running back with the first or second round pick this year. There are way too many other priorities this year to gamble on a running back that early, the secondary and offensive line need too much help.
In the later rounds though, it doesn't seem out of the question.
-Toby Gerhart, Stanford: Expected to go in the second to third round by draft experts, if Gerhart falls to the third round he would be a steal for any team. Gerhart has great power, toughness, and intelligence.
-Montario Hardesty, Tennessee: Also projected to be a third round pick, Hardesty has great speed, power, and his spin move is unrivaled. If Gerhart isn't available, Hardesty is the best mid-round option.
Either option would seal the running game for Cleveland in 2010.
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