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2009 Season in Review: The Running Backs

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This is part three of Ryan's extensive breakdown of the 2009 Cleveland Browns.  Part onePart two.Lewisfumblejgjpg-83fe656f8b8ad4f4_large_medium

Out with the old...

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In with the new.

The Players:

Jamal Lewis: 143 carries, 500 yards, 3.5 YPC, 0 TD's, Long of 18 yards, 8 catches, 88 yards, 0 TD's (IR)

Jerome Harrison: 194 carries, 862 yards, 4.4 YPC, 5 TD's, Long of 71 yards, 34 catches, 240 yards, 2 TD's

Chris Jennings: 63 carries, 220 yards, 3.5 YPC, 1 TD, Long of 16 yards, 9 catches, 56 yards, 0 TD's

James Davis: 9 carries, 15 yards, 1,7 YPC, 0 TD's, Long of 5 yards, 4 catches, 5 yards, 0 TD's (IR)

Lawrence Vickers: 0 carries, 0 yards, 0.0 YPC, 0 TD's, Long of 0 yards, 8 catches, 27 yards, 1 TD

 

This group, like the Browns season itself, was a roller coaster.  At the start of the season, we all had guarded optimism about the running attack.  Jamal would bounce back, James Davis was a star waiting to be unleashed on the entire NFL, and we always had the enigma of Jerome Harrison just waiting to get his turn.  So we thought.

Fast forward to13 weeks into the NFL season.  The Browns stood at a 1-11, and had what was shaping up to be one of the worst offenses in NFL history.  The running attack was anemic at best.  Jamal Lewis was done at the age of 30 (Who saw that one coming?).  Jerome Harrison was deactivated for multiple games in the middle of the season.  James Davis was injured in a practice opportunity session and was placed on IR.  Chris Jennings was signed off the practice squad.  In short, this teams running game was in shambles and had no reason for optimism.

Then Pittsburgh came into town on a Thursday night for a NFL network prime time game.  The wind conditions were insane, much like the teams sole win in Buffalo, making a passing game almost non-existent.  Maybe the light finally went on for the coaching staff, but instead of having Derek Anderson throw the ball 30 times, they decided to run behind an offensive line that was actually moving people off the ball.

As we know the Browns finished the season on a four game winning streak.  They ran the ball like men possessed and didn't care if they ever passed it.  Woody Hayes would have been proud.

I posted this before, but it bears repeating.

 

Over the final 4 weeks of the NFL season:

Titans: 603 yards rushing, 151 YPG

Browns: 900 yards rushing, 225 YPG

 

What this season meant:

  • Jamal Lewis was done.  We should have read the writing on the wall from the previous season.  He had no burst and no longer could hit the hole.  He was still a non-threat catching the football out of the backfield.  Football Outsiders gives Jamal Lewis a DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) of -10.3%.  If you don't know what that means, just know that it is really poor.  He ended the season on IR with post concussion syndrome.  
  • James Davis is the same question mark that he was when the season started.  He was injured in week 1 against the Vikings but got a little PT after that.  Myself, I still have sweet memories of Davis breaking a long gainer against Detroit in the preseason.  Awesome.  We didn't see enough of Davis this season to get any clue whether or not he is a good player.  He ended the season on IR with a shoulder injury.
  • Chris Jennings was a preseason favorite of many, but didn't really get a chance to show what he could do until week 10 against Baltimore.  What we know about Jennings is that he runs hard with good pad level.  He lacks the top end speed to really make him a threat and would be a decent number three on a team.  Easily replaceable.
  • Jerome Harrison.  For those new to the site, Chris Pokorny this sites head honcho, has been the leader of the free Jerome Harrison movement.  Harrison always seemed to make plays when he was put on the field.  At times, Harrison has been his own worst enemy.  Be it poor practice habits or poor pass blocking, Harrison has had trouble making it onto the field.  Week 4, against Cincy, Jamal Lewis was out with a hamstring injury, Harrison filled in with 29 carries for 121 yards and 5 catches for 31 yards.  Not too shabby.  But as I alluded to above, Harrison couldn't stay on the field.  He didn't see 10+ carries again until week 13 against San Diego.  Harrison exploded in historical fashion two weeks later destroying the Chiefs for 286 yards, the third highest total in NFL history.  Harrison kept it up the rest of the season going for 148 and 127 yards in the Browns two final wins.  He was giving the Browns an explosive play maker out of the backfield.
  • Ryan mentioned it in his offensive line recap.  Lawrence Vickers isn't a RB.  He is a walking, talking road clearing, child eating, wanna-be tackler destroying machine that goes bump in the night.  You do not "eff" with Vickers or his running backs.  It is that simple.  I would argue that even with him getting zero carries this season, Vickers was the best running back on this team.  I cannot stress enough on how bad ass Vickers was in '09.  

 

What to look for this offseason:

Jerome Harrison is a RFA.  I fully expect the Browns to drop a heavy tender on him and I would be very surprised if another team ponied up the draft picks and cash to sign away "The Ghost".  He is a virtual lock to return to the Browns in '10.  

Jamal Lewis after his injury made noise about retiring, but after rethinking (a.k.a his agent called him and told him that his "retirement" would probably cost him bonus money, so he shouldn't "retire", he should instead wait to be cut) he is still open to return in '10.  Don't count on it.  I have a better chance at being a Brown next season.

Chris Jennings is a nice player, but isn't anything to write home about.  He averaged 3.5 YPC when the Browns O-Line was blowing holes wide open.  I don't expect Jennings to be a Brown next season.

I expect big things out of James Davis.  He has the tools and if he can come back strong this off-season and show the coaches the same explosion that he showed in the '09 preseason, we just may have a stud on our hands.

Lawrence Vickers will be a free agent after the season (RFA like Harrison if there is no CBA) and is a must sign for the new regime.  I hope and expect that he will be back in Cleveland next season.

Draft:

There is some nice talent in the '10 draft at RB.  The player I like most is Jonathan Dwyer from GT.  Other players that have been mentioned are Toby Gerhart from Stanford, Javid Best from Cal, Joe McKnight USC, and Ryan Matthews from Fresno State.  The best thing about the running game improvement for the Browns is that RB is no longer a mammoth need for this team.  If a great RB is there in the second, then sure take him, but the Browns don't HAVE to come out of the draft with a RB.  There is a big difference between those two.

Free Agency:

As of right now, Ronnie Brown (RFA), Pierre Thomas (RFA), LenDale White (RFA), Darren Sproles, Leon Washington, Chester Taylor, Jerious Norwood, LeRon McClain (RFA) and fast Willie Parker will all be free agents after the season.  I have posted it elsewhere, but again, I think the amount of free agents this offseason will be incredible.  Just from a name aspect alone, I expect LT, Reggie Bush, Clinton Portis, Thomas Jones, among others to all be FA's.

Teams are getting get out of jail free cards on bad contracts, and RB will be one of the deepest positions in FA because of it.