While Greg Little is preening and posing amidst a 14-point deficit and a shower of hashtags, Browns running back Trent Richardson is mostly stoic and calculated. Certainly, when Richardson crosses the goal line as he has twice in his very young career, he exudes a level of energy that is matched only by Cleveland fans watching the plays as they unfold. But until that moment when the ball crosses the goal line, Richardson displays a workmanlike attitude.
An otherwise tough day in the trenches, gaining a mere 2.3 yards per carry, when the rookie back out of Alabama was able to turn a busted play into a six-yard touchdown when he bounced the play to his immediate left after running right into the backs of the men who were to create a hole just to the left of center Alex Mack, it was those very men whom Richardson tracked down, one by one, on the Browns sidelines following the play.
A seated Mack got a fist bump to the shoulder pads. Then came Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston and Mitchell Schwartz. The final moment of gratitude was reserved for Joe Thomas. A group of men who have underachieved individually and as a unit, being appreciated by the man whom they have largely let down. Three games in, two of them underwhelming by statistical standards coupled with the fact that his team was entertaining their third-consecutive loss, but Trent Richardson is already becoming a leader on a team in dire need of such a role.
“We’ve got to keep fighting,” Richardson said following the loss. “You’ve got to keep trying to motivate the team and I’ve got to keep motivating myself. As far me stepping in the role of being a leader, I have to make sure I’m doing everything correctly at all times. And so yeah, we’re 0-3 but we have another game Thursday, so we’ve got to go right back to the drawing board and try and find a way to win, no matter what it takes.”
This is the same player who missed the bulk of the preseason following a minor knee operation. The first rookie selected in the most recent draft, a player who the Browns traded up to obtain, and one who was arguably the team’s most talented skill player before even stepping foot on to the field. Sitting on a shiny new contract and closets full of accolades acquired during his days as an amateur player, it would be easy for Richardson, a 22-year-old kid at the core, to waltz in to Berea with a sense of entitlement. But Richardson’s senses include everything but.
Having the desire to address his team prior to their game this past Sunday, Richardson took the steps he saw fit: he asked linebacker D’Qwell Jackson for permission. Like a child at the dinner table, the running back sought to obtain clearance prior to addressing his elders.
Meanwhile, the coaching staff is faced with the peacocking of a wide receiver who has seemingly done everything but receive. While Brandon Weeden’s quarterback rating would not exactly reflect that of a mid-career Dan Marino, it’s hard to place much blame on the rookie quarterback when his second-year receiver racks up dropped passes by the tailgate bus-load. The team claims that Little is “working extremely hard,” but continues to be plagued by inconsistencies. In truth, these dropped passes provide the coaching staff with a solid on-field reason to bench a player who has been nothing but a distraction over the course of the last two weeks, Usain Bolt pose and all.
If Little is indeed benched, a variety of players could see expanded roles as Joshua Cribbs has yet to see many snaps on offense, and Jordan Norwood has been a bit nicked up. But one player who will undoubtedly get a larger workload will be Richardson as he continues to become more comfortable with the offense, his teammates and the game of football at the professional level.
The statistics will pile up eventually. For now, the Browns should take solace in the fact that they not only moved up to select a play-maker, but in doing so they also landed a natural born leader.
“All those yards that Brandon threw for and all the yards that I run for,” said Richardson just one week earlier, “it doesn’t mean anything if we’re not winning. We have a lot to prove.”
AP Photo/Tony Dejak