Duke Johnson receiving increased role in Browns' offense
By BRIAN DULIK, Associated Press
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Undersized running back Duke Johnson has never backed down from a challenge.
That mindset is serving him well in his third training camp with the Browns.
Johnson, who has 114 receptions for 1,048 yards in two NFL seasons, is the top candidate to serve as Cleveland’s slot receiver.
Browns coach Hue Jackson believes the 5-foot-9 speedster can be a dual threat catching passes over the middle, as well as out of the backfield.
“If coach says, ‘Go,’ I go,” Johnson said Monday following the team’s walkthrough practice. “I asked for more opportunities and they’ve been given, so now I have to make the best of them. That’s my job to do it.”
Cleveland envisioned Johnson as a featured back when it picked him in the third round of the 2015 draft. He rushed for a school-record 3,519 yards at Miami (Fla.) after being the consensus No. 1 prep prospect at the position.
Isaiah Crowell, however, established himself as the starter, making Johnson the change-of-pace back. He has been limited to 291 total offensive touches and 737 rushing yards.
Jackson plans on increasing the former figure by using Johnson in the slot, which had been Andrew Hawkins’ role before his February release.
“Duke is going to do everything, honestly,” Jackson said. “He is a weapon for us, and we’ll line him up in different places where we can get an advantage with him. He has to bounce around to a lot of different (position) rooms. That’s why I said we ask a lot of him, but he has responded well.”
Johnson admitted being frustrated at times last season — he also returned 17 punts for a modest 6.6-yard average — but saw things differently after watching game films. He spent the spring analyzing every play from the Browns’ franchise-worst 1-15 season.
“I saw that I didn’t make enough plays for the team, just not being mentally ready,” said Johnson, who has one lost fumble in 32 games. “I kind of knew what (the defense) was going to do, but I didn’t do enough when it came to game-planning for myself.
“This year, I want to be more productive, and I believe I will be, granted that I just continue to do what I am asked from the coaches.”
Jackson has been pleased with the early results, expressing optimism that the quick-witted Johnson can handle whatever responsibilities he is given.
“He is doing sensationally,” Jackson said. “Duke is a terrific football player. Glad he is a part of our organization and team. He is very valuable to what we do. Hopefully, we can give him a chance to be what he can be.”
NOTES: Jackson said he will use the Browns’ intrasquad scrimmage Friday to determine the quarterback depth chart entering the preseason. Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler and rookie DeShone Kizer have been taking practice snaps, in order, during camp. “It is Day 5 into this situation, and we’re going to just keep working,” Jackson said. “I want to go through the scrimmage and see where we are from there.” … Tight end David Njoku, who was the No. 29 overall selection from Miami (Fla.), caught a touchdown and dropped another potential score during a goal-line drill. … Defensive lineman Caleb Brantley — a sixth-round pick from Florida — will miss two weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured finger.
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