BEREA - Despite not playing a single down in any of the Browns' four preseason games, rookie running back Trent Richardson feels like he's single-handedly taken on The Steel Curtain.
"It's been a fight," Richardson said of watching his teammates play while he recovered from a surgical procedure on his left knee Aug. 9. "I haven't played any football yet and people still say there are high hopes for me. I just have to make myself believe that I can still play this game and play every down like it's my last."
Richardson was a regular participant in training camp for the first two weeks, but with each practice the soreness in his left knee grew worse. After being examined by the team's medical staff Richardson visited famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla. One day before the preseason opener Andrews performed a minor procedure to remove a loose particle from the knee.
Richardson's first day back on the practice field was last Monday. Unless something changes he will dress and play Sunday in the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Sunday will be exactly nine months since Richardson played for Alabama in the Crimson Tide's 21-0 win over LSU in the FBS national championship game. Almost one month later Richardson had arthroscopic knee surgery performed by Andrews, a procedure Richardson says is unrelated to the surgery last month.
All Richardson can do as the days close in on the opener is wonder what it will be like to play in his first NFL game.
"I think it is going to feel good if I am out there on the field," he said. "Any way that it goes I know these guys are going to do whatever they can to win the ballgame. If I'm out there or not, I'm a team player first so I'm going to do the best thing I can to help this team.
"If I've got to sit out or if I've got to play, whatever it is, I am behind them 100 percent and I know they are behind me 100 percent. I really just can't wait to see what this program can do."
Coach Pat Shurmur has only said that Richardson would play is he practices. Shurmur hasn't detailed exactly how he plans to split carries between Richardson and probably Montario Hardesty.
Much of how it plays out will depend on the feedback Shurmur gets from Richardson. Having missed the entire preseason, it's likely that Richardson will push for as much time as possible.
"If I feel like it's 100 percent and I'm ready to go, I'm telling coach I want to play," Richardson said.
Richardson has yet to deal with the change in speed from the college game. On the flip side the Eagles haven't had a chance to see what they'll have to deal with come Sunday.
"I have to go through that transition and get my sea legs back under me," Richardson said. "I've been studying my plays every day. I'm still in all the meetings, but it's different not being out on the field."
The word "antsy" came up when Richardson discussed what the last month has been like.
"I couldn't stand watching preseason games without being out there," he said. "It's been a long time since I touched the football. I have to make sure I feel like I'm part of this team. I had to realize this might be one of the best things for me as far as resting and getting my leg right. This might be the best thing for my career."
The Browns can only hope that's the case.