BEREA—It’s hard to say that a rookie had a disappointing season when he accounted for 11 touchdowns and accounted for over 1,300 yards of offense, but that’s how Trent Richardson felt at the end of last season.
When Richardson summarized his rookie season at the conclusion of 2012, he admitted he was disappointed in his production, while also disclosing he played the majority of the season with fractured ribs.
Richardson got off to a slow start after missing the majority of training camp after arthroscopic knee surgery on his left knee on Aug. 9. In Week Six against the Bengals, he suffered the rib injury.
He played through the injury for the next nine games before he sat out the season finale against the Steelers with an ankle injury, despite being just 50 yards shy of hitting the 1,000-yard mark. Richardson finished with 950 yards rushing and caught 51 passes for 367 yards with a score.
However, when a player is drafted third overall, expectations are higher.
Richardson declared he is 100 percent healthy after the first day of minicamp.
“I feel great,” he said. “I wish you all could be out there to watch the whole practice. I’m out there flying around. I finally feel skinny. I don’t have all that big padding on me right now.
“It is way easier to breathe,” he said. “I can sleep at night. I don’t feel nothing is wrong with me at all. I feel better than ever right now.”
Rob Chudzinski said Richardson looks quicker in real time, compared to on tape.
"He's really moving well, I think that's the thing that jumped out at me,” Chudzinski said. “He's moving around and he's quicker than what you see on tape at times. Obviously, with his size and his running ability, we're excited about getting a chance to work with him."
Richardson is expected to be a big factor in the Browns new look offense as offensive coordinator Norv Turner is known for producing NFL rushing champions. He coached three players who combined for five NFL rushing titles: Emmitt Smith (1991-93), Ricky Williams (2002) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2007).
Chudzinski was asked why running backs tend to excel in this offensive system.
“One thing is the flexibility,” he said. “We are going to use those guys and put those guys in positions to run the type of runs in the scheme that they can do and feature them to get the ball in their hands.”
Chudzinski is obviously excited to have Richardson in his system.
"Really, I'm looking more forward to what we want to do with him,” he said. “If you look at both my history and Norv’s history, featuring a running back and I think Trent has all those qualities that you'd want in someone who is going to be able to carry the load and be a big part of our running game."
Chudzinski expects to use Richardson as the workhorse.
“Trent will be our primary runner,” he said. “We will use him on first-second down and Trent has some unique skills. He can actually catch the ball well and run routes well out of the backfield. That’s one thing out of the last few days that we have been able to see. He is a guy that we could play on three downs. Obviously, we just have to keep him fresh. ”
Richardson is eager to be featured in Turner’s offense.
“The first thing (Turner) said to me was, ‘I had Emmitt Smith,’” Richardson said. “For me and Emmitt Smith being from the same hometown, going to the same school, there’s a lot of big work and a lot of big shoes I’ve got to fill.
“For Emmitt to be up under him and to learn from him, that’s big for me just to have him around.”
Outside linebacker Paul Kruger is impressed after playing against Richardson twice last season.
“There are a ton of similarities between him and Ray Rice,” Kruger said. “Both guys have the same body type and he has a huge upside.”
That’s a Wrap: The Browns concluded their three-day minicamp with a practice outdoors. The Browns practiced indoors the first two days due to wet grounds.
“We were able to lay the foundation for what we’re trying to do,” Chudzinski said. “We were able to get the base offense, base defense and base special teams in.
“It was a teaching, learning camp because it was new for everyone.”
Chudzinski said Phase 2 is three weeks of classroom work and then the OTAs. He also said the Browns will have a minicamp two weeks after the draft.
The only two players who didn’t take part in the practice were OL Jason Pinkston (blood clot) and WR David Nelson (ACL). Pinkston has been cleared to return to begin practicing but is being brought along slowly. Nelson is expected to be ready for the start of training camp.
“I am looking forward to seeing David in the mix,” Chudzinski said. “He’s primarily played in the slot in the past.”
Skrine, Owens Impress: The general consensus is the Browns need at least one cornerback and possibly two.
The Browns added two unrestricted free agent cornerbacks in Chris Owens and Kevin Barnes, but both are looked at as slot or sub package cornerbacks. Buster Skrine has been lining up opposite of Joe Haden.
Chudzinski asked if either Skrine or Owens have stood out.
“Buster has been impressive and Chris has impressed in his time,” he said.
Chudzinski was asked if either could end up being the starter.
“Only time will tell. We have a lot of work to do.”
The Browns have been linked to Alabama CB Dee Milliner with their first pick. Other top corners they could get in a trade down are Xavier Rhoades or Marcus Trufant.
Joe Knows: Six-time Pro Bowl LT Joe Thomas said the Browns are employing the same offense that Chudzinski used when the team was 10-6 in 2007.
“It’s coming back fairly quickly,” he said. “It’s the same offense and the terminology is pretty similar. There are a few nuances that are different.”
Haslam in the House: Owner Jimmy Haslam is in Berea as the Browns prepare for next week’s NFL Draft. Haslam’s the CEO of Pilot Flying J, which was raided by the FBI and IRS earlier this week.