One frustrated position coach
Well, isn’t that interesting.
No one, it seems, wants to win the starting job at running back for the Browns. At least that’s the way running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery sees it.
Considering the running game is expected to be the backbone of the offense this season, it seems quite odd nobody has stepped up 10 days into training camp in Berea and declared the job was his and no one was going to take it away from him.
“Nobody wants a role,” Montgomery lamented to the assembled media Sunday. “You’d think the guys who participated, who were here last year, you’d like for them to have more of a lead role in that aspect of it.”
To be fair, the position has been hit hard with injuries with only Isaiah Crowell escaping. Duke Johnson (hamstring), Terrance West (calf) and Shaun Draughn (hand) are not expected to be ready for the exhibition opener Thursday night against the Washington Redskins.
What really bothers the puzzled Montgomery is not necessarily the injuries, but the fact the running backs appeared to take a laissez faire approach toward the beginning of camp.
“The disappointing thing,” he said, “was all those guys approaching here are not in tip-top shape. . . . That was a total setback and now, they’re climbing back uphill. That’s why they’re taking a back seat right now.”
Bouncing back quickly from injuries is essential for running backs. “Each day, you’ve got to be healthy and ready to go and you’ve got to play injured,” said Montgomery. “You’ve got to play sore and you’ve got to play banged up. If you can’t play with those things, you really can’t play.”
Apparently, that message has not reached the young men for whom Montgomery is accountable. Dealing with it frustrates the former running back, who had 1,515- and 1,402-yard rushing seasons during his eight years with the Philadelphia Eagles.
He’s having trouble understanding why the hunger isn’t there. Why the desire to excel isn’t there. It frustrates him.
Crowell hasn’t stepped up yet. Perhaps he’s saving it for the exhibition season. But he has to understand coaches grade players all the times and that includes training camp. It’s all part of the process in determining the shape of the roster.
And when Montgomery declared, “No one wants the role,” that resonates with coach Mike Pettine and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. “It bothers me that guys don’t want to be the lead bell cow guy.”
All he wants is for someone, anyone, to, as he puts it, “strap the saddle on and just say, ‘Hey. I want the job.’ Right now, it’s not a close race.”
Sure, it’s still relatively early. And sure, there is no need for major concern now because most of these guys are young and heal much quicker than those who have been around for a while.
But what Montgomery is most likely looking for here is someone, anyone, with an attitudinal approach to the game that will make his job that much easier and enjoyable and less frustrating.
The Cleveland offense this season definitely will rely much more heavily on the running game with that aspect counted on to set up the passing game. Strength on the ground, at least in theory, will make it easier for the below-average (being kind here) passing game to operate efficiently.
It worked last season for a while. At the beginning of 2014, Cleveland’s running game was one of the best in the National Football League, racking up 732 yards through the first five games. That’s 146.4 yards game. Then center Alex Mack went down with a broken leg and the running game fell apart.
The Browns gained just 992 yards on the ground the next 11 games, dragging down with it the passing game. That’s how vital the ground game is to this offense this season.
With Mack back, it theoretically should get better. But first, Montgomery has to see tangible evidence that someone, anyone, on this team is assertive enough to stand up, look him right in the eye and declare “this job is mine” which would put a smile back on his position coach’s face.
Until and unless that happens, his frustration level can only grow.