BEREA, Ohio (AP) – The Browns are searching for a feature running back, the one they can feed the ball to down after down.
For now, they’d settle for a healthy one.
Injuries have ravaged Cleveland’s offensive backs with Shaun Draughn, who has been making a strong push for a roster spot, the latest to get hurt. Draughn sat out Sunday’s practice with a cast encasing his left thumb, which he injured during Friday’s scrimmage in Columbus.
Following the workout, Browns running back coach Wilbert Montgomery expressed disappointment that none of his team’s young backs seem willing to step forward and become Cleveland’s lead back.
“Nobody wants the role,” Montgomery said.
Since training camp opened, the Browns have lost Terrance West, last year’s leading rusher, with a calf injury; rookie Duke Johnson is out with a hamstring issue; Glenn Winston has undergone knee surgery; and fullbacks Malcolm Johnson (shoulder) and Luke Lundy (concussion) have missed practice time.
Medical issues aside, Montgomery, an old-school coach who gained nearly 7,000 yards during nine seasons in the NFL, is bothered that his backs didn’t come to camp physically prepared for the grind of multiple practices.
“The disappointing thing was that all those guys approaching here and not being in tip-top shape,” Montgomery said. “I think that was a total setback, and now they are climbing back uphill and that’s why they’re taking a back seat right now.
“If you’re going to be a running back, your job is to get hit and your job is being able to bounce back from injuries really quickly because it’s most like playing a game every week.
“Each day you’ve got to be healthy and ready to go and you’ve got to play injured, you’ve got to play sore and you’ve got to play banged up. And if you can’t play with those things there, you really can’t play.”
Browns coach Mike Pettine ruled out Johnson, a third-round pick, for Thursday’s exhibition opener against Washington. Johnson has been sidelined since Aug. 1 and there is still no timetable for his return.
Johnson is expected to have a major role in Cleveland’s offense, and Montgomery said the former Miami star’s versatility separates him from the Browns’ other backs. However, while he’s hurt, Johnson doesn’t have a chance to showcase his talents.
Montgomery believes Johnson can stay in step with the offense because he played in a similar system with the Hurricanes.
“He’s just missing reps,” Montgomery said.
“He’s sitting in meetings all the time, taking notes, doing what we ask him to do, but Duke showed so much in the OTAs and the minicamp, and before his injury, he showed us the things that we wanted to see, so as long as he stays focused and stays into it, I think he’s going to be OK because he had done a lot of things already
“The running part of it, he’s a running back. Put him on his track and tell him his keys, and he’s going to be fine.”
Montgomery knows what it takes to be great, and he’d like to see one of Cleveland’s backs strive for stardom. At this point, none of the youngsters appears to have the inner drive or motivation to be the unquestioned starter – never mind the Browns’ next Jim Brown or Leroy Kelly.
“How can you play and not want to be a starter?” Montgomery said. “It just bothers me that guys don’t want to be the lead bell-cow guy. This game gives you so much. I always talk to them about what this game gives you as a young person, but what it does for them in life and to their families, so if you want to be a backup then be a backup, but I mean you’re gonna get replaced.
“At some point you’ve got to be a starter if you want to hang around.”
Montgomery is looking forward to his backs getting healthy enough to practice in pads. Only then will he be able to figure out what he’s got.
“I have a hard time evaluating guys when they’re in their underwear,” he said. “I love to see them with the pads, that’s when I really want out here in the next few weeks is to see if somebody is willing to pick up the flag.”
NOTES: Pettine has not ruled out WR Terrelle Pryor for Thursday’s preseason opener. Pryor has been sidelined with a strained hamstring and will need to practice by Tuesday in order to play. … Rookie OL Cam Erving took some snaps with Cleveland’s starting offense at left guard over John Greco. … Sunday’s practice was essentially a half-speed walk-through and fans seemed bored by the lack of action. … Pro Bowl CB Joe Haden was back on the field after being held out of the Columbus scrimmage with muscle tightness.
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