Big Questions at Running Back For Cleveland Browns In 2009

Steve TaterCorrespondent IMay 21, 2009

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 28:  Jamal Lewis #31 of the Cleveland Browns tries to get around the tackle of Orpheus Roye #96 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during a fourth quarter run at Heinz Field December 28, 2008 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game 31-0. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Browns' organization had a lot of holes to fill this offseason.

They have done their best to fill needs on the offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, safety, and wide receiver through a series of trades, free agent signings, and draft choices.

How all these new players fit in is up in the air. But on the surface, there seems to be more organizational depth than they have had in quite some time.

But Rome wasn’t built in a day, so there is bound to be at least one area that goes unattended to. Going into training camp it looks like the Browns still need to address the running back position.

The team may still be in the hunt to pick up another running back, but as the team is formed today, they are pinning their hopes on aging veteran Jamal Lewis.

In 2008, Lewis rushed for 1,002 yards. His yards per carry average dropped from 4.4 to 3.6 from 2007, and he rushed for just four touchdowns (down from nine in the previous year).

There are a lot of reasons for the decline besides Lewis’ own performance. The entire offense was in disarray as a result of injuries, poor quarterback play, and some questionable play-calling by former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.

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Lewis made no bones about his disdain for some of Chudzinski’s decisions, and it looks like this new coaching staff is committed to establishing a strong running game. It is possible that last year's numbers were just a fluke.

But the fact remains that Lewis will turn 30 this year, and he has almost 2,400 carries under his belt.

Lewis had minor surgery on his ankle prior to this year, and his punishing running style does not make for a long career.

Backing up Lewis is Jerome Harrison. At 5’8” 205 pounds, he is a little dynamo.

Harrison is electric when he gets his hands on the ball. He averaged a spectacular 7.2 yards per carry and also averaged 9.7 yards per catch.

Harrison did show the ability to run with the football while in college, rushing for 1,900 yards his senior year at Washington State.

However, it remains to be seen whether he could carry a significant workload in the NFL if Lewis goes down with an injury. It is asking a lot of a man his size to carry the ball 20-25 times per game at this level.

Additionally, the past regime never trusted him on the field because they felt he was a liability in picking up the blitz.

The hope is that entering his fourth year in the league, he has rectified those issues.

Third on the depth chart for now, is newly acquired Noah Herron. Herron has only 85 career rushes and has not played in a game since 2006 with Green Bay.

He spent the entire 2007 season on injured reserve with a knee injury and was inactive the four games he was on the Tampa Bay roster in 2008.

At 5’11” 225 pounds, Herron has an NFL body. But up to now, his knees have not cooperated.

Marcus Thomas is a free agent acquisition who is likely headed for the practice squad for seasoning—if he makes the team at all.

He wasn’t able to get on the field for the 0-16 Detroit Lions, making it unlikely he will be able to do so for this team.

Sixth round draft choice James Davis is an intriguing player and might turn out to be a wild card.

Davis rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a junior at Clemson. However, he split time with C.J. Spiller (a future NFLer in his own right) his senior year and rushed for 751 yards on only 171 carries.

Davis was initially projected to go much higher in the draft. In college, Davis showed nice cutback ability and has a solid build at 5’11”, 210 pounds.

He is a punishing runner between the tackles, but it is not his running ability that caused teams to shy away from him on draft day.

Davis’ free fall down the draft boards occurred after scouts watched him whiff at opposing linebackers during blitz drills at Senior Bowl practices.

His blocking skills were so poor during practices that Senior Bowl coaches were afraid to use him in the game, for fear of getting future NFL quarterbacks injured before their career even got started.

NFL coaches have a way of teaching proper techniques to improve blocking skills for running backs. But no one can “teach” the willingness to actually do it.

Rumors have been floating around that Eric Mangini might try to pull the strings to acquire yet another ex-Jet, running back Thomas Jones.

Those rumors may just be conjecture by the media, who assume that Mangini is trying to stockpile as many of his former players as he can.

While Jones has had a solid NFL career, it does not make much sense to replace aging Jamal Lewis with an even older Jones.

Keep June 1 marked on your calendars. That is the day when many veterans either get their signing bonuses or get cut.

There is no doubt that Browns’ management will be keeping a watchful eye on the waiver wire that day.


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