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Questions loom at RB...

June 11, 2014
By MIKE McLAIN - Tribune Chronicle ( , Tribune Chronicle

It's a stretch to say that the Browns are trying to find a capable player to fill the hole created when running back Trent Richardson was traded to the Indianapolis Colts.

That would be to assume that Richardson was actually a capable performer, which couldn't be further from the truth. Not since linebacker Mike Junkin - the mad dog in a meat market, according to scout Dom Anile - failed miserably as the fifth overall pick in 1987 has a prospect as highly valued as Richardson been so mediocre.

Some might say that 950 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 267 carries in 2012 was a decent rookie season, but there were ominous signs even then. The lack of burst into the line. The absence of the top-end speed needed to get outside. Nothing about Richardson spelled out "third overall pick."

In one of the few wise moves made by former CEO Joe Banner and former general manager Michael Lombardi, the Browns traded Richardson to the Colts after the second game of last season for a first-round pick this year. General manager Ray Farmer used that pick to trade up two spots for the opportunity to select quarterback Johnny Manziel.

The only problem with pulling off the heist with the Colts was that then-coach Rob Chudzinski was left with a collection of ordinary backs. Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya and Edwin Baker all took their turns after Richardson was gone, with none giving the front office reason to believe he could be the guy this season.

Knowing that the foundation of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's offense is a zone-blocking running game, Farmer went about securing backs who might be good fits. Ben Tate was signed away from the Houston Texans, where he was stuck behind Arian Foster. Small-college sensation Terrance West of Towson was selected in the third round of the draft to join Tate, Baker and Dion Lewis, who is coming off an ankle injury that sidelined him all of last season.

A potential surprise in the competition is Isaiah Crowell, who was the Southeastern Conference's Freshman of the Year in 2011 for the University of Georgia Bulldogs. Unfortunately, for Crowell, that was his lone season with the Bulldogs. He was kicked off the team in 2012 after being arrested on three weapons charges, including two felonies.

Crowell played the last two seasons at Alabama State. Last year he rushed for 1,121 yards and 15 touchdowns on 170 carries, numbers that might have drawn notice to a player without Crowell's background.

The best Crowell could do was sign with the Browns immediately after the draft. He's convinced team officials that he's moved on from his troubled past.

"I feel I need to come in and stay humble and work and learn the offense and keep my nose clean," Crowell said Tuesday after a mini camp practice.

Dane Brugler and Rob Rang of "" said that based on pure talent Crowell might be the best runner in the draft. Questions linger about his toughness and durability.

The Browns have been down this road numerous times since their return to the NFL in 1999. The list of failed running backs is almost as long as the list of all the quarterbacks who have failed.

If Crowell is serious about staying out of trouble, he might make Pettine's job more difficult when cuts are made. Tate and West are locks. The Banner-Lombardi regime liked Lewis, who was hurt in a preseason game. Baker showed more pop than any of the backs last year, but, like Lewis, is a holdover from the previous regime.

Crowell (5-11, 225) believes his chances of making the roster are good. He might be a bit too optimistic now that Tate and West are on board.

"I had a lot of suitors, but my agent told me he felt like I could get in here and make the team," Crowell said. "Not that I couldn't make it anywhere else, but it probably wouldn't be that tough to make it here."



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