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Cleveland Browns Need to End Chris Ogbonnaya Experiment and Sign a Fullback
Over the past few seasons, Cleveland Browns fans have been subject to some poor play at the fullback position. From Owen Marecic (fourth-round pick in 2011) to Brad Smelley (seventh-round pick in 2012), the Browns have failed to find a lead blocker for whoever is in their backfield since Lawrence Vickers left via free agency after the 2010 season.
Coming into the 2013 season, fans had reason to believe the Browns would once again utilize a real fullback to pave the way for 2012 first-round pick Trent Richardson, as his new offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, and head coach, Rob Chudzinski, were both from the school of the power rushing attack. However, as free agency and the draft passed not only did the team fail to add an impact blocker for their rushing game, fans found out they would be using a “hybrid” type of fullback, as running back Chris Ogbonnaya would be making the shift over to the position.
Cleveland fans partially got their wish, as both Marecic and Smelley saw their short stays with the Browns come to an end. In their place, however, came ever more unknown—as a career 6’0” and 225-pound running back would attempt to make the conversion. While Ogbonnaya has been excellent in picking up the pass rush as a third-down back during his first two seasons in Cleveland, his ability to quickly react to the blocking scheme ahead of him to open up holes for Richardson would be a completely different animal.
While a lot of the NFL is shifting to not having a traditional fullback on the roster, at first it just seemed like the Browns were “getting with the times” by moving to this hybrid approach. But when you look at the teams that utilize this approach, they have blocking tight ends and different blocking and pull schemes designed for their offensive line to make up for the lack of a traditional fullback. The Browns, on the other hand, have done none of the above.
Through the first two games of the regular season, to say Ogbonnaya’s transition to lead blocker for Richardson isn’t going well would be giving him credit. The man known as “Obie” to the fans is not only failing to make the transition, but the Browns are exposing themselves and their former No. 3 overall pick (Richardson) to a ton of criticism regarding his running skills.
A year ago—with the likes of Marecic and/or Smelley leading the way, the injured rookie from Alabama rushed the ball 267 times for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns in 15 games. His yards per carry (3.6) left a lot to be desired from the elite running backs in the league (Adrian Peterson and C.J. Spiller averaged six yards per carry), but at least he was being given an opportunity to have some success early in his career on an abysmal offensive team.
This season, Richardson has been given just 31 carries for 105 yards and zero touchdowns through his first two games despite the Browns being in each of those ball games until the middle of the fourth quarter both games. Allow me to quantify that for you, a healthy Richardson in his second year has been given the ball seven less times through his first two games in his second season than in his first.
To take it even further, Richardson has yet to receiver a carry in the fourth quarter of a game this season. An in-depth look at the run game from Sunday’s contest against the Ravens showed the Browns last rushing attempt was around the three-minute mark of the third quarter. You read that correctly, despite being down just 7-6 until the middle of the fourth, the last time the Browns rushed the ball was in the third quarter.
When asked by the media why this is, Chudzinski and Turner deflect by saying there are some things Richardson still needs to grasp about the new system. With all due respect to them, how hard is it to line their franchise running back up behind a guy who can open up holes for him and let him run? Instead, you see a guy who finds himself slowing down out of his initial burst because Ogbonnaya is having trouble locating the blocking scheme and leading him to a hole.
This is not to say this writer does not like Ogbonnaya as a player, he was a very serviceable running back and a great third down option if necessary. On a team that literally has no depth at the running back position thanks to injuries, he certainly is the best backup on the roster. But his inability to develop into a lead blocker quickly is not only hard to watch, it is hurting the production of the offense as a whole. For this reason, the Browns need to strike quickly this week and sign a fullback.
In their game against the Ravens, the team very rarely utilized a fullback anyways. Of the 18 rush attempts, Ogbonnaya was only used three times as the lead back, while tight end Gary Barnidge was used four times. The other 11 rushes were either a single back set or the team moved a tight end into an up back position to chip a linebacker coming off the edge.
Signing a guy off the streets won’t fix the team’s issues at wide receiver and blocking issues from the right side of the line, but it will give them a player that knows his role in the offense and can open up holes for Richardson. Turner and Chudzinski both had a hard-nosed player like Mike Tolbert in San Diego and Carolina, and certainly can understand the importance of having a real lead blocker.
The free agent market is actually ripe with lead blockers, as Vickers and former Pro Bowler Michael Robinson from Seattle are sitting there waiting for their phone to ring. It likely wouldn’t take much to bring either of these players in, with Vickers making the most sense since he got his big break in this system with Chudzinski as the offensive coordinator before.
At first this writer was open to the hybrid experiment with Ogbonnaya, and while I am a firm believer in giving a new system time—this is one thing that is just not working and needs upgraded immediately. Defenses are stacking the box against the run, and the Browns are currently No. 28 (soon to drop after the Monday Night Football Game) in rushing yards and attempts through the first two games of the season. In fact, their running statistics resemble those of teams that were getting blown out the first two games—not one that had a chance to win in the fourth quarter twice.
The time is now for the Cleveland Browns to bring a real lead blocker into the mix. I have eaten my crow with the hybrid experiment with Ogbonnaya, now it is time for Chudzinski and Turner to eat theirs.
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