BEREA — The Browns upgraded the running back position in the offseason with the additions of free agent Ben Tate and third-round pick Terrance West.
Undrafted rookie Isaiah Crowell believes he should be part of the discussion.
“I feel like it’s going to be a challenge, but I feel like I’m just as good, just as talented,” Crowell said Tuesday after the first practice of mandatory minicamp. “With hard work I feel like it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
“I feel like I can be great with hard work and dedication staying with the playbook.”
Crowell (5-foot-11, 225 pounds) returned to practice after missing time with a hamstring injury. Not only does he need to make up for lost time, he needs to prove to the Browns he can stay out of trouble.
He was SEC Freshman of the Year in 2011 at Georgia after rushing for 850 yards (4.6 average) and five touchdowns in seven starts, but was suspended for a game for failing a drug test. He was dismissed the following offseason after he was arrested on three weapons charges that were later dropped.
He transferred to Alabama State and rushed for 1,964 yards with a 6.0 average in two years.
Some analysts considered him one of the most talented backs in the draft, yet he went undrafted, largely because of a checkered past.
“It was kind of a wakeup call,” Crowell said. “I felt like I should have been drafted. I can’t let it worry me. I can’t dwell on it. I just have to move on and work hard and just prove myself on the field.”
Crowell acknowledged the character concerns hurt his stock and said he has to prove himself to the Browns.
“I just feel I need to come in, work hard, stay humble and just work to learn the offense and keep my nose clean,” he said. “That’s what I feel I need to prove to myself.”
He relayed the simple answer he gave when asked by teams about his arrest.
“It was just a mistake. Fast living, being around the wrong people,” he said.
Crowell was much happier when asked to describe his running style.
“Big and powerful, not one-dimensional,” he said. “I can run between the tackles. I can run outside. I have a little bit of speed. I can take it to the house.”
NO ‘HARD KNOCKS’
First-year coach Mike Pettine was defensive coordinator with the Jets in 2010 when they were featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” a series that takes a behind-the-scenes look at one team’s training camp. The experience was enough for him to turn down an invitation to star on the show this summer.
He said the proposal came before quarterback Johnny Manziel was drafted.
“I just really wanted to get through that first season’s training camp,” Pettine said. “This was a decision that was made long before the draft. It was just something that I felt in my gut, I just didn’t want to be a part of the first year. I saw the positives of it, but I think there’s some negatives to it, as well.
“Just not having a good feel for our roster, as far as the chemistry and the personalities and all of that, that’s kind of going into some uncharted territory to agree to do that right out of the gate.”
The NFL appreciates that dynamic and gives teams with rookie coaches the option to decline.
“I just always felt if there’s anything that causes us to think for one second about something other than preparing our football team for the opener, then that’s probably not a good thing,” Pettine said.
Receiver Andrew Hawkins was with the Bengals when they were featured last year. He agreed with Pettine’s no.
“That was a great decision,” he said. “It does get a little distracting. There’s just so much other stuff going on.
“A lot of the young kids would kind of play into the cameras, and they’re setting up stories and they’re too naïve to even see it and it’s taking away focus for them.”
Outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard is entering the last year of his rookie contract. He said there were early talks about an extension between the team and his agent but “we’re just focused in on the year.”
“Hopefully it works out,” he said. “I’m just going to take it one step at a time. I can only worry about this year. I love it here, I love the fans here, I love the support I’ve been getting, the teammates. The locker room is growing on me. I feel more comfortable now than I did when I first got here.”
Sheard has 21 sacks in his first three years and is the first player in Browns history to lead the team three straight seasons. He’s ready for some wins to follow.
“I can’t wait. I want to be here when this city erupts,” he said. “I just know it’s coming. Hopefully this year is the year.”
Pettine said the Browns have enough depth at outside linebacker despite the release last week of veteran Quentin Groves.
Sheard, Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger are expected to get the majority of playing time, with unproven Justin Staples and Eric Martin the other outside linebackers listed on the depth chart. Pettine said rookie inside linebacker Chris Kirksey, a third-round pick, will work some outside and the coaches will “cross-train” some others.
“We always want to be in the position of putting the best 11 out there,” Pettine said.
He wouldn’t get into specifics about why Groves was cut.
“It was a move that we felt was in the best interest of the Browns,” Pettine said. “With veteran players that have a chance to latch on somewhere else, we would prefer to do it sooner than later so they do have the opportunity to move on.”
- Rookie guard Joel Bitonio, the No. 35 pick, will miss minicamp with an ankle injury suffered last week. Pettine said he’ll be ready for the start of training camp in late-July.
- Pettine said receiver Travis Benjamin is the only injured player that could miss the start of training camp as he returns from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Benjamin is progressing well, but could open camp on the physically unable to perform list to give him more time.
- Left tackle Joe Thomas, rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert and receiver Nate Burleson returned to practice after missing time. Burleson, who had the cast on his arm removed, was limited to individual drills.
- Guard Jason Pinkston left practice with an injury to his left hand.
- Right tackle Chris Faulk and defensive lineman Billy Winn were among those who didn’t practice.
- Cornerback Joe Haden will host a celebrity softball game July 17 at Classic Park in Eastlake, the home of the Lake County Captains. The rosters haven’t been released, but he’s invited several teammates and players across the NFL.
- Quarterback Brian Hoyer threw a beautiful deep completion of about 60 yards to undrafted rookie receiver Chandler Jones.
- Receiver Josh Gordon, who reportedly faces a suspension for failing a marijuana test, continues to practice, although his reps were reduced.