The offseason drama surrounding the quarterback position has overshadowed what could be a great story heading into 2010–the return of running back James Davis.
Davis had a breakout preseason in 2009, highlighted by an 81-yard touchdown run versus the Detroit Lions. Davis had 12 carries for 116 yards in that game and finished third overall in the preseason with 24 carries for 186 yards.
As the season began, and starting running back Jamal Lewis clearly showing he’d lost a step, a drumbeat began among the fans, trying to persuade head coach Eric Mangini to give Davis more playing time.
But Davis immediately was rocked in the first game versus the Minnesota Vikings, and then put on the injured reserve list after Week Three due to a freak shoulder injury during an opportunity period after practice.
Davis was a late round pickup for the Browns in 2009, but he had been projected to go much higher had he entered the 2008 draft. With his preseason performance, many Browns fans were hoping Mangini had stolen a good player who would have a breakout year.
The good news for Browns fans is that Davis only suffered a shoulder injury, meaning he’ll have fresh, healthy, legs going into the 2010 season.
The competition at running back currently is wide open, so there should be plenty of opportunity there for Davis to make his mark. You don’t want to bet the franchise on a low round draft pick, but there’s no reason Davis shouldn’t see significant playing time this preseason with a legitimate chance to make the opening day roster.
The Cleveland Browns backfield consists of Davis, Jerome Harrison, Lawrence Vickers, Chris Jennings and Peyton Hillis. Thomas Brown and Jed Collins, both of whom were signed to the practice squad late last year, also are on the roster.
Harrison has yet to sign his second round tender, the importance of which can’t be overlooked by Davis going into 2010. Vickers and Hillis are fullbacks and shouldn't factor into the equation.
Should Harrison go elsewhere, that opens up the door for Jennings and Davis to battle it out for the starter’s job, assuming the Browns don’t draft a running back next month. Even if Harrison stays on the team, Mangini showed extreme reluctance using Harrison until Lewis was gone.
If the Browns draft a running back, which certainly is not out of the question in the third or fourth round as things currently stand, look for the early edge to go to Davis among the running backs on the active roster. Mangini picked Davis, and he’s going to want “his” guy to succeed.
Plus, when you look at how Mangini’s second round draft picks like David Veikune and Brian Robiskie faltered last year, Mangini needs a late round sleeper agent to bust out on the scene for his own benefit.
So while the quarterback carousel continues to turn, don’t forget the Browns also need a running game.