What to Make of the Cleveland Browns' Recent Running Back Signings

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVMay 23, 2013

Running back Brandon Jackson is back with the Browns, bringing them up to six running backs on their present roster.
Running back Brandon Jackson is back with the Browns, bringing them up to six running backs on their present roster.Karl Walter/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Cleveland Browns landed undrafted rookie running back Miguel Maysonet, whom they were awarded off waivers after he was released by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Though the Browns also released two other undrafted rookie running backs—Robbie Rouse and Jamaine Cook—they chose to bring back another back in Brandon Jackson, who spent the last two years with the Browns and appeared in two games last season.

That puts the Browns at six running backs—Trent Richardson, Montario Hardesty, Dion Lewis, Chris Ogbonnaya, Johnson and Maysonet.

Among AFC North teams, only the Pittsburgh Steelers presently have as many running backs on their roster, and rightfully so, considering the crisis they faced at the position in 2012. 

So why so many running backs for the Browns?

Could offensive coordinator Norv Turner, he of the legacy of finding feature backs and using them successfully, really be considering a committee approach for the Browns in 2013? Or is there another issue at play?

Though it is merely May—months away from the start of the NFL season—and OTAs are particularly secretive affairs in which the media assembled to observe have strict rules about what they can and cannot report, there appears to be at least one motivation for the excessive running back signings: Richardson.

Richardson hasn't participated in OTAs and won't be anytime soon. According to the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram's Scott Petrak, Richardson has a lower-leg muscle strain. The Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot reports that he could be sidelined through minicamps, which are scheduled for the first week of June.

Regardless of the fact that this isn't a serious injury, this is not a sight that Browns fans want to see right now:

Richardson was hurt in his rookie season as well, first having to undergo a knee procedure that caused him to miss the preseason and then broken ribs which limited his effectiveness from Week 6—when he suffered the injury—until the end of the year.

It's not quite the auspicious start for the Browns' 2012 first-round (and third overall) draft pick, especially considering it was hoped he'd be the savior of Cleveland's run game.

While he still could be—his present muscle strain isn't anything serious and his lack of participation in OTAs and perhaps minicamps shouldn't affect his availability come the start of actual training camp—clearly, sitting him out isn't the only precautionary measure the Browns are taking.

Richardson's primary backup appears to be Hardesty, who rushed 65 times for 271 yards and a touchdown last year, while Ogbonnaya seems best-suited for third-down duties when he's used. Though he rushed only eight times in 2012 for 30 yards, he also caught 24 passes for 187 more.

While Hardesty stayed healthy in 2012, that hasn't been the case in the past. He missed all of his rookie season and part of his second year after tearing his ACL, and as such, may be making the Browns' coaching staff wary of leaning on him should Richardson miss any time in 2013.

Hence the Browns not only keeping Ogbonnaya but also bringing on Lewis, the undrafted Maysonet and re-signing Jackson.

Further, with Richardson potentially unavailable through minicamps, the Browns also need to have enough running backs on hand to participate in drills with the first, second and third teams. Though there are six backs on the roster now, that's not likely to be the case as rosters are trimmed down throughout the summer.

Simply put, the Browns need bodies.

Still, it's a bit curious that the Browns have chosen to bring on so many running backs. The Baltimore Ravens, for example, have just four on the roster presently.

Perhaps they have chosen to do so for injury insurance reasons or because the Browns have a few tricks up their sleeve at the position. Regardless, it does seem to indicate that even if Richardson is fully healthy for the entire season, there will be other backs getting snaps, if not significant carries this year.

The real concern, however, is Richardson's health, which has been in a compromised position since he joined the Browns last year.

At the very least, it helps bolster the argument that using a first-round draft pick on a running back—especially one in the top five—is a dangerous gamble considering the injury risks of the position.

At worst, however, it could be a marker of other health issues to come for Richardson.

At least for the Browns' present purposes, they have enough backs to practice their new offense. As long as holding Richardson out is for precautionary reasons, which head coach Rob Chudzinski told The Plain Dealer's Tom Reed on Thursday, it's not a major cause for alarm just yet.