Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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Browns rookies could make impact

BEREA, Ohio -- The plan is clear: Accumulate draft picks, use them wisely, then put those players in the starting lineup.

The Cleveland Browns believe that finally, they are on track for success.

Led by a pair of first-round picks, running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden, Cleveland could have four rookies start on offense this season. And on Monday, linebacker James-Michael Johnson put in a claim on defense with two interceptions.

"They throw it, I can catch it," said Johnson, a fourth-round choice from Nevada. "I was just doing my job. But, yeah, it felt good."

Coach Pat Shurmur was impressed.

"He had an interception, a couple actually," he said. "He looked good on the goal line. He's had a couple of good days, he really has."

Johnson could certainly fill a void when veteran linebacker Scott Fujita misses the first three games. Fujita is suspended for his part in the New Orleans bounty scandal.

"They haven't told me anything except to go out and play," Johnson said. "They need me to go get water, I'll do it."

Shurmur saw "plenty of mistakes" as the offense worked on short-yardage and goal-line situations as well as the two-minute drill. "We need to correct them, but that's why we do them," he said.

Shurmur was happy nobody was injured in practicing situational football.

"You always keep your fingers crossed because all the legs are piled up," he said. "We'll do a little red zone the next time. We'll just keep going through situations and building."

General manager Tom Heckert, insisting the Browns must build through the draft, used Cleveland's first two picks a year ago on beefy linemen Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard to bolster the defense.

Now, it's time to boost an offense that scored just 218 points, ahead of only Kansas City (212) and St. Louis (193).

Richardson is slated to start, while Weeden is taking first-team reps ahead of incumbent Colt McCoy. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and wide receiver Josh Gordon are working with the first team, too.

Shurmur also is eager to see more of fourth-rounder Travis Benjamin. The 5-foot-10 receiver from Miami runs crisp routes and -- important to a team plagued by drops -- makes catches. "I think he has really established himself," Shurmur said. "He's distinguished himself catching the ball in traffic."

Weeden is on track, too, according to Shurmur. "I think he's got a pretty good grasp of [the offense]," he said.

Richardson said he is ready to complement the passing game and accept the responsibility of being a high-profile running back.

"It's only pressure if you make it pressure," he said. "I don't think we're just going to be a running team, I think we are going to be a balanced team. So, we will be ready for whatever."

Richardson displayed versatility Monday, bursting through holes created by Joe Thomas and Schwartz. He also took some screen passes, broke open over the middle a couple times, and leaped to snare a sideline toss from Weeden.

The Browns know they can run left behind Thomas, a five-time Pro Bowl tackle. They hope Schwartz, a second-round selection from California, can help bolster the right side.

"He competes well," Shurmur said. "He's very smart, he's very good with his technique. Offensive linemen who know how to use their feet and hands of course can play and perform well. We'll see."

Shurmur cautioned that Schwartz hasn't been used in a game yet.

That will be a big test for all of Cleveland's rookies.

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