BEREA, Ohio– For the Browns offense this year, the only constant has been change.
It’s well documented the Browns have played three different quarterbacks this season due to the combination of injury and poor performance in Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and now Jason Campbell. Weeden has started a total of 5 games, as has Campbell with Hoyer starting three.
There has also been turmoil at the running back position.
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It’s looking more and more as though Willis McGahee will miss this week’s game due to a concussion he suffered late in the loss to the Patriots. He has not been cleared to return to the practice field thus far.
“I really think that there’s there’s been a lot of scenarios we’ve had to deal with, but if you would’ve told me in August that Trent Richardson wasn’t going to be here and we were going to play three different quarterbacks and they all were going to start about 3 1/2 to 4 games or whatever they’ve done…” Offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “We’ve had some other issues to deal with, obviously the running back situation and I think you’d be saying this offense would struggle.
“I think our guys have handled it extremely well,” he said. “Really in recent weeks, the featured guys have been (Chris) Ogbonnaya and Fozzy (Whittaker) and now we got (Edwin) Baker.”
The Browns entered training camp looking as though they were extremely deep at the running back position. Richardson was slated to be the feature back with Dion Lewis the change of pace back and Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson in the mix. Ogbonnaya was slated to be the fullback in the Browns offense, but he is now the lead back. Lewis (broken leg) and Hardesty (knee) were injured in the preseason. Jackson was waived and Richardson was traded after the second game.
Besides the aforementioned, Bobby Rainey and Dennis Johnson were on the roster after the trade of Richardson. Rainey has went on to be the feature back with the Buccaneeers after an injury to Doug Martin, while Johnson is seeing time with the Texans backing up Ben Tate.
“We’ve had constant change and this really comes down to a week-to-week game,” Turner said. “You’re trying to get everyone on the same page in what we’re doing.”
Nevertheless, the Browns rushing game has struggled averaging just 84.3 yards a game, ranking 28th in the NFL. McGahee leads the team in rushing with 377 yards, but is averaging just 2.7 per carry. He has the Browns only two rushing touchdowns. Ogbonnaya has 224 yards, but is averaging 5.3 yards a carry. Whittaker has just 79 yards and is averaging 2.8 per carry. Ogbonnaya has the longest run from scrimmage in 43 yards.
The Browns have rushed for more than 100 yards four times with their best effort being 126 yards on Oct. 13 against the Lions. However, Travis Benjamin had a run of 45 yards on a reverse. Last week against the Patriots, the Browns had 108 yards rushing but Josh Gordon had an end around for 34 yards and Campbell had runs for 27 yards. Against the Vikings, the Browns had 103 yards, but Josh Aubrey had a run of 34 yards and Gordon had a 22-yard run. The only game the Browns rushed for over 100 yards without the aid of receivers, quarterbacks or special team plays was on Nov. 18 against the Bengals when they totaled 102 yards. Ogbonnaya had 69 yards, Whittaker had 20 and McGahee had 13.
The Bears come to FirstEnergy Stadium giving up 157 yards rushing a game, which is last in the NFL in that department.
Ogbonnaya is hoping to take advantage of the opportunity this week.
“It’s another week of preparing each week you prepare as the starter,” Ogbonnaya said. “Anything can happen. Hopefully, we’ll have the opportunity to run the football.”
Ogbonnaya says the offense has to be able to move the ball, sustain drives and put points on the board.
“I think we’ve been balanced the last few weeks,” he said. “We’re trying to do the right things on offense and to keep on the field.”
If McGahee doesn’t play, Baker is expected to be added to the mix behind Ogbonnaya and Whittaker.
“He’s been in the system and is familiar with (our offense),” Turner said. “I’m sure he’ll get an opportunity to play a little bit.”
Baker played at Michigan State and was drafted in the 7th round while Turner was coaching the Chargers. He spent his rookie season on the Charger’s practice squad.
“He was a very productive player in college,” he said. “He’s not a big man but he’s a powerful back.”
Baker is eager to show what he can do.
“I want to show what I can do and that I can play in this league,” Baker said. “I’ve made plays in the preseason and in practices.
I’ve been waiting for my moment because I know what I can do.”
Baker said he thinks he can pick up the system quickly.
“It’s like riding a bike, but I have to get back in there and learn.”
Turner admitted it has been challenging to get continuity in the rushing game.
“That’s been the biggest challenge has been trying to coordinate the running game with the backs we have with the different things we’ve had to handle.”
Sheard Honored: Browns DL Jabaal Sheard has been named the Cleveland Browns 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year, the team announced Thursday. Renamed in 1999 after legendary Chicago Bears Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, the accolade is presented to one member of each of the 32 teams, highlighting players’ community service and playing excellence. Sheard will be recognized during pre-game festivities Sunday against Chicago, the Browns’ final home game at FirstEnergy Stadium this season.
From the league-wide designees, three NFL finalists will be selected to be honored during the week of Super Bowl XLVIII in New York-New Jersey. The 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award will be presented on Saturday, Feb. 1, during the Third Annual NFL Honors, where the league will salute its best players, performances and plays from 2013. The Browns have had two players as finalists in Joe Thomas and Mike Furrey.
“Jabaal is very deserving of this recognition,” Chudzinski said. “When I first met Jabaal, I could tell right away there was something special about him. Jabaal carries a quiet relentlessness on the field, and is an outstanding football player. But off the field, he really separates himself because he’s an MVP in our community and a great ambassador for our organization. It’s genuinely important to him, and we’re very proud that Jabaal Sheard wears our uniform every Sunday.”
Since joining the Browns as a second-round draft pick (37th overall) in 2011, the linebacker has been committed to impacting those most in need in Northeast Ohio. Through this dedication, especially to aiding children, the University of Pittsburgh product has established himself as an advocate and leader among his teammates, coaches and community.
“It’s an honor to be selected for this award,” said Sheard. “Walter Payton was a great man on and off the field, and it’s humbling to be mentioned with him. Educating youth, especially here in our Cleveland community, is something that is very important to me, as well as helping those less fortunate.”
Obie Second: In the Pro Bowl voting on NFL.com, RB Chris Ogbonnaya has been running second in the fan voting at the fullback position. Ogbonnaya started the season listed as the Browns fullback, but has become the running back in most situations.
“I’m very flattered,” he said. “It’s surprising and flattering at the same time.”
Injury Update: RB Willis McGahee (concussion) and OL John Greco (knee) missed practice Thursday. OL Reid Fragel (illness) returned to practice.
Greco didn’t sound too optimistic about playing this week before practice. OL Jason Pinkston will get the start at left guard if Greco doesn’t play.
Looking Back: Defensive coordinator Ray Horton was disappointed the defense couldn’t stop the Patriots on their final two possessions in last week’s loss. The Browns led 26-14 with under three minutes to play.
“Our operation was to slow them down make them go the long, hard way,” he said. “We didn’t back off the pass rush.
“You would’ve liked to have somebody step up and make a play,” he said. “Obviously, we were trying to milk the clock. We would’ve liked a pick or sack.”
Cutler Starts: QB Jay Cutler will start against the Browns Sunday after missing five games due to injury. QB Josh McCown, who was named the NFC Player of the Week for his four touchdown performance last week against the Cowboys will return to his backup role.