BEREA If running back Trent Richardson is unable to play Sunday, it will be Montario Hardestys chance to start his first game of the season.
Richardson injured his ankle near the end of the game and left Denver in a walking boot. Pat Shurmur hasnt ruled Richardson out, but he has yet to practice this week and is listed as doubtful.
Richardson is just 50 yards shy of hitting the 1,000 yard rushing mark in his rookie season, but offensive coordinator Brad Childress said that will not factor in the decision to play him.
If he can move, he can and he could get that 50 yards, Childress said. If he cant, were not going to (put him out there).
Childress said Richardson has not been 100 percent all season, but hes seen enough of him to feel he is a franchise running back.
I have (seen he is a franchise-type back), Childress said. I dont think (Trents) had all of his faculties all season. I think we started to see that spark he has in recent weeks.
Shurmur doesnt think the scheme will change much if Hardesty starts.
From a run game standpoint, the run game is similar regardless who the running back is, Shurmur said. If Montario starts the game, Brandon Jackson and Chris (Ogbonnaya) would play.
Childress agreed that the scheme will not be dramatically different.
We design the game plan to attack the defense that were trying to attack, Childress said. We probably wont do anything out of the ordinary.
Childress said that Richardson might play some, even if he doesnt start.
Trent could be a spot player this week, if he makes it back, he said. With that in mind, were still trying to attack Pittsburghs defense, which is the number one ranked defense in the league.
Hardesty says hes ready.
Ill be ready to go, Hardesty said. Its a big opportunity for our team to get two wins over Pittsburgh. We havent done that in a long time around here. I think its a good opportunity for our team and Ill be ready to go, whatever the circumstances are. Just going to get a good week of preparation and then get ready to win the game.
Hardesty said hes not trying to prove anything.
Im just excited to be getting the opportunity to go out there and play ball, he said. If that means I get more carries, then Ill welcome that with open arms. I just want to help our team win. Ill be out there as much as Im asked upon to be out there. Ill be out there and ready to go.
Hardesty has carried the ball 51 times for 234 yards, including one touchdown. He has the highest yards per carry average among Browns running backs with a 4.6 average. He also has caught two passes for 16 yards. Jackson has been inactive for 13 games and has yet to carry the ball this season. He has caught two passes for 20 yards. Ogbonnaya has run the ball six times for 21 yards and has caught 22 passes for 184 yards.
The Steelers are the number one ranked defense in the NFL overall, and are second against the rush. In the Browns 20-14 win over the Steelers on Nov. 25, the Browns rushed for 108 yards. Richardson led the Browns with 85 yards and a touchdown, while Hardesty had 14 yards on two carries.
They have a legit defense, Hardesty said. They have a lot of guys that have been playing in that system for a long time, a lot of guys that have been playing together. They know how to do it. If you look at their scouting report, you see a lot of eight, nine, 10-year vet guys and theyve all been playing in the same system for a long time. With (Troy) Polamalu coming back, theyre still a very good defense. Theyre the number one defense in the NFL, so its going to be a challenge for us.
Why Not Seneca: A logical question wouldve been why not to bring QB Seneca Wallace back to play against the Steelers if both QB Brandon Weeden or QB Colt McCoy cannot play this week.
Wallace was released in the final roster cuts and did not catch on with another NFL team. Shurmur was asked if the Browns talked about bringing Wallace back. The Browns signed QB Josh Johnson to backup QB Thad Lewis.
Theres a conversation about any move we make, Shurmur said. We considered Seneca and we decided to go with Josh.
Shurmur was asked if Wallace wouldve given the Browns a better chance this week, rather than Lewis making his NFL debut.
I dont know that.
Shurmur said he has confidence in Lewis.
He has a live arm, is very athletic and hell execute our offense the right way, if he plays.
Shurmur wouldnt say if Weedens injury or McCoys was more severe.
Theyre both not practicing, he said. They both have the same injury (shoulder sprain).
Shurmur said he knew a lot about Johnson.
We know a lot about him, he said. I evaluated him coming out of college. Hes a tall quarterback and we thought he would give us a chance to go in there and let it rip if he needs to play.
Lewis has taken all of the reps at quarterback on Wednesday and Thursday and feels hes up to the task despite being just three days removed from the practice squad.
To be on the practice squad and just take reps with the ones its a good thing, Lewis said. Sometimes, your number gets called, so my number was called this time and hopefully, I will get the opportunity to play.
Until then, Im going to do whatever Coach (Shurmur) asks me to do. Right now, my job is to take reps with the ones. Last week, it was to do whatever he needed me to do. Its just doing whatever the team needs you to do right now.
Childress admitted it will be a very difficult challenge for Lewis to make his NFL debut, if he is called upon.
Its a tall mountain, but a guy like Thad has been around here all season, Childress said. Its not daunting to him and I actually think hes kind of looking forward to it. Hes a flat-line guy and thats what you want with a quarterback.
Lewis said he will not do more than hes asked to do.
Just being a quarterback, he said. Going out there and doing the things that quarterbacks do. Making plays, making the right reads, being the leader and putting the guys in the right situations and making good decisions out there.
Thats all a quarterback can do, but you have 10 more guys out there with you, so theyre going to help you. Youre not going to go it all by yourself.
Uncertain Future: With the uncertainty of what will happen after the season, Shurmur and his staff said they will approach this weeks game with the same approach theyve used all season. Shurmur was asked what improvements the Browns have made in the last two seasons.
Its more of a question for after the season, he said. I think weve made improvements, maybe some would say not fast enough. We came into a less than ideal situation and think we did pretty good job.
Shurmur said he knows its a bottom line business.
We have not won enough football games and I know thats how this thing works, he said. I have seen improvement and will leave it at that.
Shurmur said his approach to this weeks game will be no different from any others.
Its no different this week, he said. I get this. My concern is this weeks game. At some point after this week, Ill start to think of whats next.
Shurmur was asked if he has plans for exit meetings with players next week.
I know what I want to do with the players Monday as far as scheduling, he said. Again, my thoughts are on getting our team ready to play Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Offensive coordinator Brad Childress and defensive coordinator Dick Jauron have been through this before as each have been NFL head coaches.
I dont worry about it, Childress said. Since the Mayan calendar proved to be false, I assume well make it around until Monday.
Jauron said his mother told him long ago that worrying about things you cant control is a waste of time.
Childress said there is something to be said about continuity, instead of starting over repeatedly.
I think (continuity) is important, but were in such an immediate gratification society, Childress said. In the end, its the owners prerogative to do what he wants to do.
Dawson Garners Another Honor: Its been a good week for K Phil Dawson. On Wednesday, Dawson was named to his first Pro Bowl and on Thursday he was named the local chapter of the Professional Football Writers Association (PFWA) Player of the Year.
Dawson was the first Browns player selected to the Pro Bowl as a kicker (Lou Groza was selected as a tackle). He has made 28-of-29 field goals this season for a percentage of 96.6 which leads the AFC. He is also 6-of-6 from 50 yards or longer, which is tied for the most in the AFC. Thus far, Dawson has scored 112 points, surpassing the 100-yard mark six seasons in a row.
I am extremely happy and thrilled for Phil, Shurmur said. It is a well deserved honor.
Dawsons career field goal percentage is 84.2, which is the tops of all NFL kickers that have made 300 or more field goals. Dawson was one of the Browns three captains for the season. LB DQwell Jackson won the award in 2011.
Good Guy: LB DQwell Jackson was named the Browns recipient of the Dino Lucarelli Good Guy Award is given annually by the Professional Football Writers Association (PFWA)to a player for his cooperation with the media and for the way the player carries himself in the community. Jackson leads the Browns with 114 tackles, adding 3.5 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, two recoveries, five passes broken up and one touchdown.
Thats an appropriate award for him, Shurmur said. Because he is a good guy and as a coach, you want guys like him walking around the locker room. Those are the guys that help sell the message that the coaches are telling the team.
Jackson served as one of the Browns three captains for the season and was named a first alternate for the 2013 Pro Bowl at inside linebacker. DB Mike Adams was the winner of the award in 2011.
Injury Report: CB Sheldon Brown (headfoot), TE Jordan Cameron (head), QB Colt McCoy (right shoulder), RB Trent Richardson (ankle) and QB Brandon Weeden (right shoulder) didnt practice Wednesday and Thursday and were listed as doubtful. WR Joshua Cribbs (knee), DB Tashaun Gipson (foot), DL Ishmaaily Kitchen (calf), DL Juqua Parker (knee), DL Frostee Rucker (shoulderhamstring) and OL Joe Thomas (back).