BEREA, Ohio (AP) — As he watched the film of Sunday’s loss at Indianapolis, Trent Richardson barely recognized the running back in the white No. 33 jersey and orange helmet.
The guy with the dreadlocks didn’t hit the holes with authority. He didn’t move the pile forward. He didn’t make any of the Colts defenders miss. He didn’t do much of anything.
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Richardson was almost embarrassed.
“It really didn’t look like me,” he said.
Playing with a painful rib cartilage injury he tried to protect with a flak jacket, Richardson struggled from the outset in Cleveland’s 17-13 loss and was benched at halftime by Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who only needed to call a few plays for his rookie star before realizing he was not going to be effective.
Richardson has no regrets about playing, and he intends to be ready for this Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers.
But the third overall pick in this year’s NFL draft said Wednesday that he has yet to play at full speed this season because of injuries.
“It’s frustrating because I want to be out there all the time,” Richardson said, “I want to be 100 percent and the league hasn’t seen me at 100 percent yet. I mean I had two surgeries in less than (six) months, so I still do a little rehab not to get off track and stuff. That’s just being a professional.”
Richardson missed the entire preseason after undergoing knee surgery on Aug. 9. It was his second knee operation in six months, and it took him some time to shake off the rust when he returned. Richardson sustained the rib injury in the Browns’ Oct. 14 win over Cincinnati.
He was limited in practice last week, but it became clear early in the first half against the Colts that Richardson wasn’t himself. He gained eight yards on eight carries and had two receptions for 11 yards when Shurmur decided to keep him on the sideline for the second half.
Richardson spent the rest of the day wearing a baseball cap, not his usual Sunday head garb.
“I thought I was going to be better,” he said. “But, of course, I didn’t have no contact going into the game, so I thought I was going to be better. It was a little worse than I thought it was going to be as far as like pain-wise and taking hits. So coach made the right decision.”
Richardson isn’t second-guessing his own decision to play.
“Nah, I would never wish I didn’t play. I had to make sure I could go out there and try to do something. In my mind, I always feel like I can go full speed. I just think when it got to the contact part, I couldn’t really go at 100 percent. My game is a physical game, so the way I play, I’m not the type of person to really just step out of bounds.”
When he reviewed the Colts game, Richardson noticed how he was hindered by the injury.
“I felt like I could’ve made more people miss,” he said. “And my game, I’m not usually letting the first person take me down or I’m giving another person initial contact. I wasn’t really giving initial contact long last Sunday, so that wasn’t my game.”
Richardson was limited in practice on Wednesday but said his injury has improved. He said there is no risk of making it worse and trainers told him that he’s improving. He won’t have any real contact until he faces the Chargers, so there’s no way for him — or the Browns — to know if he’s healed until he’s tackled.
Richardson intends to play this week. He has not been given any indication the Browns intend to rest him before the Nov. 11 bye week.
“Nah, they ain’t told me that,” he said. “They already know what my mindset is. I’m not going to sit down. That’s just never been in me to sit down. I only sat a game when I had to and I couldn’t go out there. I’m going to go out there and see what I can do.”
Shurmur said he won’t hesitate to use Richardson, and include him in the game plan, as long he’s medically cleared.
“If he’s healthy to play, he plays,” Shurmur said. “If they tell me he’s at no risk to hurt it further, then we’re playing ball.”
Richardson, though, might not always be honest about how he’s truly feeling. There’s no doubt he’s tough, and Shurmur knows it’s going to be impossible to convince Richardson he can’t help the team. However, the final decision rests with Shurmur and he won’t do anything to put Richardson at risk.
“He’s being honest and trying to be convincing at the same time,” Shurmur said. “I get that. That’s not the first time that we’ve encountered a player that’s tried to do that. That’s where the relationship is where you know the player and you watch the player and you know what he looks like when he’s feeling great regardless of what he tells you.
“In the case of Trent, what I do know is this, he’s a competitor, he wants to be out there and no matter how he feels he’s going to try to convince me to go out there. I just know that when I go into that decision making about whether he should be or shouldn’t be.”