It’s been an incredible two weeks for the Cleveland Browns. Training camp opened with unbridled enthusiasm from fans about the 2012 season. With the announcement that Jimmy Haslam III would become the new owner, the anticipation and excitement exploded. Fans, rightfully so, became more optimistic about the future of the franchise.
The two first-round draft choices, Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, have been impressive in training camp. With Weeden officially being named the starter earlier this week, everything appeared to be falling into place. I expected tonight’s pre-season game against the Lions to provide a good indication of how the rookies are progressing.
The Lions have a very good defense, and at least, the first quarter could have been a great learning experience for Weeden and Richardson. They would get to experience the speed of the NFL and take a few NFL-style hits. While I’m hoping Weeden only gets hit once or twice, a few for Richardson would be more beneficial. He would have a chance to learn what to expect and begin to develop a plan for avoiding too many big hits.
Those were my thoughts before Wednesday. While everything remains true and possible for Weeden, we know that Richardson doesn’t have a healthy knee and won’t be playing. This. Is. A. Big. Deal.
Richardson originally had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in February. Nevertheless, the Browns decided that the impressive running back was too good not to select at the #3 spot in the NFL Draft.
I don’t recall much talk about Richardson possibly having issues with his knee leading up to training camp. Then, nine days into camp, he was on an exercise bike rather than on the field.
Yesterday, Richardson visited the famous Dr. James Andrews, who performed February’s surgery, to have an evaluation that led to a “clean up” of a tiny piece of loose cartilage. Richardson is now sidelined until the first week of the season. Hopefully, that prognosis is correct.
The Browns aren’t going to be a playoff contender even with a healthy Richardson. However, he appears to have the talent to make the offense explosive. The best thing an effective Richardson can do is take pressure off of Weeden. A solid running game will open things up and allow Weeden to play within the system rather than be the system.
Without Richardson, the Browns will be forced to rely upon Montario Hardesty to carry the ball. Hardesty has shown potential, but he missed the entire 2010 season with a torn ACL. In 2011, he was spent a lot of time on the sideline with a calf injury. He may be even more of an unknown commodity than Richardson. One thing is for certain now, he will get a chance during the pre-season to prove he can be a All-Pro running back.
Regardless of the spin coming from Head Coach Pat Shurmur, an unhealthy T-Rich is T-Rouble for him. His job is on the line with a new owner looking to take the Browns to the elite level of the NFL. Shurmur, more than anyone, needs the Browns to finish the season with at least a 8-8 record to keep his job. However, that may not even save him.
Haslam’s desire to take the Browns from rags to riches will likely lead to wholesale changes in the power structure of the franchise. Browns President Mike Holmgren may be gone, but I’m not convinced that General Manager Tom Heckert gets fired. However, if T-Rich is a bust, Heckert is definitely gone.
There’s one other thing riding on T-Rich – The mental health of a battered fan base. While the optimism of the future should remain high due to Haslam, another 4-12 season will be brutal.