BEREA, Ohio -- Isaiah Crowell is the unquestioned No. 1 running back on the Cleveland Browns’ depth chart, but he is far from the only talented rusher in the backfield working their way through training camp ahead of the 2017 season.
The Browns have the change-of-pace rusher in Duke Johnson Jr., who offers a unique ability to split out wide in the slot as a receiver, and then, they added Matthew Dayes with a seventh-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. And should they make it through camp healthy, Johnson and Dayes could very well be the complementary backs when Crowell is not on the field.
“Duke has been doing this now going on three years, so that is a huge advantage in terms of execution and knowing your assignment, your position and the adjustments that come along with that,” running backs coach/run game coordinator Kirby Wilson said prior to Tuesday’s practice.
“We think Matt has some similar qualities. He is a three-phase player as a runner, pass protector and pass receiver. The similarities are there, but the experience is the biggest factor right now.”
In two years out of the University of Miami (Florida), Johnson has rushed for 737 yards and one touchdown on 177 carries, as well as turned 114 catches into 1,048 yards and two scores.
“He is a playmaker,” Wilson said. “When you go in his past and look at things from college to high school, he has always been a playmaker. That is what you always preach to your guys. Just play hard, play hard until the playmakers make their plays because they always do.
“There are a certain amount of things we expect from Duke each and every Sunday. So far to this day, he has never been a disappointment. He has always been there to make plays for us.”
The Browns expect Johnson “to make that jump” in terms of understanding defensive concepts better in order to fully ready himself for the 2017 season.
“All of those things improve with experience,” Wilson said. “That is what he is bringing back to the table this year. He has done it now two times, in addition to being in the same system Year 2, will dramatically increase his ability to make more plays.”
Making plays is something Dayes has plenty of experience doing.
In his four years at North Carolina State University, the 5-foot-8, 205-pound Dayes rushed for 2,856 yards and 34 touchdowns on 550 carries. Additionally, Dayes caught 98 passes out of the backfield for 933 yards and six touchdowns.
During his senior season in 2016, Dayes turned 249 carries into 1,166 yards and 10 touchdowns. Also, he caught 32 passes for 267 yards. The carries, yards and passes caught set or matched new single-season personal career highs.
“I just think he is an angry guy,” Wilson said. “That is his mentality. That is his makeup.
“When I first met him in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, he was angry. It is hard to make that guy smile. That plays right into his ability. He has always probably had a chip on his shoulder because of his size. I think guys like that tend to carry that with them everywhere that they go.”