April 16, 2014

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Browns’ Jerome Harrison looks to repeat big day vs. Chiefs

BEREA — Jerome Harrison might not be able to bite his tongue if he doesn’t get the bulk of the carries Sunday against Kansas City.

Harrison

Harrison

Harrison set a Browns record with 286 rushing yards against the Chiefs on Dec. 20 in a 41-34 win, starting a personal 561-yard onslaught that ranks eighth in NFL his­tory for a three-game stretch. The Week 2 rematch with the Chiefs seemed like it would be the perfect back­drop for him to reflect on the breakthrough that solidified his place in the NFL and led to a long-awaited starting job.

Then came the opener last week in Tampa Bay. Harrison didn’t start and was given just nine carries, matching the number for Peyton Hillis. “It’s only Week 1, so no,” he said Thursday when asked if he had talked to the coach­ing staff about getting more touches. “All I can do is hope things change.

“If I feel like I need to say something, I will, if it gets to that point. But I’m hoping it never does.”

Harrison admitted he was a “little bit” surprised by the lack of carries but didn’t make it an issue.

“If I feel like I need to say something, I will, if it gets to that point. But I’m hoping it never does.”

Harrison admitted he was a “little bit” surprised by the lack of carries but didn’t make it an issue.

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“I’m all about going with the game plan,” he said. “I’m not that type of guy to go up and complain. I just try and work hard, practice hard and let things work themselves out.”

Harrison’s role as No. 1 back was in doubt when the Browns drafted Montario Hardesty in the second round. But Hardesty tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the preseason and was lost for the season, seemingly clearing the way for Harrison.

However, Hillis impressed the coaches in the preseason with his size, power and catching ability. Harrison is listed first on the depth chart, but coach Eric Mangini said both backs will play each week and each has his own package of plays.

“I just prefer them both to get positive yards,” Mangini said. “I have total confidence in either one, so whoever we have in, if those plays are rolling, I’m happy to continue rolling with them.

“It’s a good situation. I really think that both guys are going to do good things when they are in the game.”

Harrison rushed for 52 yards in the 17-14 loss to Tampa Bay, including a 39-yarder. Hillis rushed for 41 and a touchdown and caught four passes for 24 yards. He also had a costly fumble on the Bucs 15-yard line.

Harrison is used to not getting the number of chances he desires. In his first three seasons, he never carried more than 34 times in a season. Then last year, he finally rushed 29 times for 121 yards against Cincinnati in Week 4.

Jamal Lewis regained his health and Harrison went back to the bench. He didn’t surpass 10 carries again until the explosion versus the Chiefs after Lewis was sidelined again. His 286 yards — he added three touchdowns in 34 attempts — rank third in NFL history behind Adrian Peterson’s 296 and Lewis’ 295.

Harrison followed with 148 and 127 in the final two weeks of 2009 — on 39 and 33 carries.

In his four games with at least 20 rushes, he’s gained 121, 286, 148 and 127 yards. Not bad for a 5-foot-9, 205-pounder who’s shadowed by durability concerns.

“I can only control what I can control,” he said. “I’m a player. I’m not the coach.

“If I was coaching, I’d give myself the ball damn near every play. I believe in myself like that.”

Harrison said ideally he’d get 20-30 carries a game.

“Twenty carries allows you to get into a rhythm and get a feel for the defense,” he said. “Most big runs come later on after you’ve got a good feel, into a good groove, figured out what they’re doing.” The Browns could use a boost from Harrison on Sunday in the home opener. The offense couldn’t overcome three turnovers against Tampa Bay and bogged down in the second half.

The Chiefs held San Diego to 14 points in the rain in Week 1 and have made stopping Harrison a top priority. New defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel knows Harrison well from his days as Browns coach.

“I would say I’m paying attention to Jerome,” Chiefs coach Todd Haley said. “We’ll definitely have a jersey No. 35 out there (in practice).

“When you have a guy play as well as he did against us, you tend not to forget that for a long, long time.”

Harrison isn’t fixated on his big day in K.C. He gave all the memorabilia to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has only a picture of the game in his house.

“Every once in awhile someone brings it up,” he said. “How I go about playing the game and preparing and my outlook on the sport haven’t changed at all.”

Left tackle Joe Thomas had seen glimpses from Harrison starting in 2007 and was waiting for him to get a legitimate chance. The fast finish to 2009 proved what Thomas thought he knew. “I think when he starts getting his touches, and we get in a rhythm, which will hopefully be pretty soon, I see the same production that he had last year happening again,” he said.

Mangini praised Harrison’s pass protection in the opener, pointing out he saved a long touchdown pass to Mohamed Massaquoi with a key block. “I think he’s playing at a higher level than he was at this time last year,” Mangini said. “I think he’s continued to improve and grow as a player. I don’t have any doubts in terms of his ability to keep improving, either.”

Maybe those carries will come Sunday, after all.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.