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Browns coach Hue Jackson wants to turn RB Isaiah Crowell loose, and Crowell can't wait

BEREA — Hue Jackson believes running back Isaiah Crowell has “special ability” and needs to be “turned loose.”
Crowell has been desperate to hear that from a coach and play caller.
“It feels great, just to know my coach is confident in me,” he said Friday. “That’s what I’ve been wanting the whole time I’ve been here. I felt like I needed a coach that was confident in me, because I’m confident in myself.
“I appreciate that and it’s important to me to know that he understands that the running game is important also. We’ve just got to get it done, go out there and get it done for him because he believes in us.”
Jackson has been in Crowell’s corner for months and wants a workhorse to lead the way for his power running game.
“If you have a guy who can wear the defense down a little bit and a guy who knows how to carry the ball, be physical and make those tough yards, there is no substitute for those guys,” Jackson said. “You have to have them. We have not kind of turned our guy loose yet, but he has some special ability that way. We are going to find out here pretty soon.”
Crowell finished the opening loss last week with 12 carries for 62 yards, but 40 came on the final three carries when the game had been decided. Jackson took the blame for the slow start that saw Crowell average 2.44 before the finishing flourish.
“We’ve just got to give him opportunities to go show his ability,” Jackson said. “We’ve just got to hand it to him enough times.
“If you have a runner you believe in, you’ve got to give him the ball. He’s got to get a feel for the game and be able to play within the structure of what you’re trying to accomplish with the offensive line.”
Crowell was undrafted in 2014 and shared carries with veteran Ben Tate (until he was cut) and fellow rookie Terrance West. Crowell rushed 148 times for 607 yards, a 4.1 average and eight touchdowns in Kyle Shanahan’s wide-zone blocking scheme.
Crowell was the feature back last year, but first-time coordinator John DeFilippo failed to establish any semblance of a run game until the final month of the season. Crowell finished with 706 yards, a 3.8 average and four touchdowns.
Jackson and his coaching staff watched film when they arrived, liked what they saw and thought Crowell’s field vision could be much improved with changes to how he read the defense and blocking.
“You’ll always have some misreads in a game, but he is much better in terms of understanding what he’s looking at and why he’s looking at it,” running backs coach/run game coordinator Kirby Wilson said.
Duke Johnson replaced Crowell (5-foot-11, 225 pounds) for many passing situations in the opener against the Eagles, rushing three times for 22 yards and catching three passes for 28. But Johnson (5-9, 210) is viewed more as a change-of-pace back and receiving threat, so it’s up to Crowell to carry the run game.
“He’s tough, he’s big, he’s physical and he has that ability to go power to speed,” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “He has some breakaway speed. He’s a freak athlete. You might not look at it, his demeanor, but he can run and move and I think you can get him the ball as many times as he wants it.”
The Browns ran only 52 plays against the Eagles – compared to 77 for Philadelphia’s offense – and never established a rhythm, particularly in the run game, where they totaled 120 yards on 21 carries, including five for 37 from quarterback Robert Griffin III.
“Certainly we’re going to expect more, because we want to rush for 150 yards every week,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “That’s our goal.”
The players and coaches pointed to struggles on first down and the dreadful 2-for-10 in third-down conversions as reasons for the poor rushing numbers.
“We’d like to get into rhythm early as a team that wants to run the football, and you do that by controlling the line of scrimmage early and a runner has to be aggressive and attacking the assigned hole and make sure that he has the proper read,” Wilson said.
“It’s about staying on the field, getting a chance to run all the runs that we have schemed up that we think are going to be good,” right tackle Austin Pasztor said.
The Ravens won’t make it easy Sunday in the home opener. They held the Bills to seven points and 160 yards in the opener, including 65 rushing.
“They played awesome last week,” Thomas said. “It was impressive and sad at the same time. They’re a phenomenal defense, it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
A statue of Hall of Famer Jim Brown, arguably the greatest running back of all time, will be unveiled before the game. So it would be a good time for Crowell and the ground game to get in gear.
“That would be great,” Crowell said. “I really expect that to happen.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or [email protected] Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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