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Despite his age, McGahee a good fit

Posted Oct 2, 2013

Although he is much older than the Browns prefer their players to be, running back Willis McGahee is fitting in well.

At 31, Willis McGahee doesn’t fit the Browns’ analytical ideal for player age. 

The sweet spot is somewhere between 22 and 27 for all positions so that the team is, figuratively speaking, always green and growing. And a running back on the north side of 30 is pretty much considered someone who has merely grown old.

But the Browns were willing to make an exception in this case because they see McGahee, at the very least, as a one-year solution in their backfield, which was depleted by the season-ending broken leg suffered by Dion Lewis in the summer and the trade that sent Trent Richardson to the Colts last month.

They believed McGahee still has enough life in his legs to make a solid contribution on the field, but it is what he can bring from an off-the-field perspective that is equally valuable – especially for a game like Thursday night, when the Browns will be under the national spotlight as they take on the Buffalo Bills at FirstEnergy Stadium.

The guy has a swagger, built through a career that includes two Pro Bowl appearances and the sort of longevity that is extremely rare in the NFL, especially for someone who carries the football. He has a certain spark and flare and fun-loving spirit that have a way of inspiring teammates to raise their game.

First, though, McGahee understood that he needed to demonstrate that he still had some game as well.

“That’s always going to be my thinking, regardless of I’m here next year or somewhere else next year,” he said. “You’ve always got to prove to the people that you can still play this game, because for some reason, everybody thinks this is a young man’s game, which it’s not.

“Like one of my coaches always used to say, ‘You’ve got the young bull and you’ve got the old bull. The old bull knows what to do. You let the young bulls to out there and get hit first.’ But at the end of the day, you’ve always got to prove yourself, especially at the position I play, because you bring in a running back every year.”

The Browns signed McGahee only days before inserting him in the lineup for their third game of the season, at Minnesota. They won, 31-27, but McGahee provided a mere eight carries for nine yards, a 1.1-yards-per-carry average. Other than a nine-yard run, it was a forgettable performance.

But that changed in last Sunday’s 17-6 win against the Bengals. McGahee carried 15 times for 46 yards. He had a modest 3.1 yards-per-carry average, but he did plenty to help the Browns grind out time and move the chains late in the game as they sealed the outcome with a 91-yard touchdown drive.

“From what I’ve learned is, guys don’t want to hear you talk about what you’re going to do; they want to see it,” McGahee said. “I know, for a fact, after they saw me run the ball against Cincinnati, everybody was like, ‘OK, he came here to play!’ I’m getting high-fives from everybody. It was like, ‘Hey, they’re finally opening up to me.’

“That’s a big step right there in the locker room. I think they’ve got faith in me. They were a little iffy at first. Everybody would be a little iffy at first, but they’ve got a little faith.”

McGahee, who began his NFL career as first-round draft pick of the Bills in 2003, is a good mentor for a team filled with younger players. In 11 NFL seasons -- four with the Bills, four with the Baltimore Ravens, and the previous two with the Denver Broncos -- the former University of Miami star has seen and done enough to share his good and bad experiences and what he learned along the way.

But he isn’t forcing any conversations. If a teammate wants his advice, all he has to do is ask. McGahee isn’t into preaching.

“I’m really not a big talker,” he said. “I know, when I was coming up, I didn’t want to hear people trying to tell me how to do this. I was always taught to figure it out on my own. I’m guessing that’s the old school in me.

“But, now, I have no problem helping out the guys. Like, (Chris Ogbonnaya) will ask me, ‘What did you see that I need to do on this?’ I’ll say, ‘You’ve just got to be patient, because it’s going to open up. If you go fast, it’s just going to be like a big, old pile. Just take your time and it’s going to open up.’ He took it and he got some good runs in (against Cincinnati). So I have no problem helping if you come ask.”

McGahee also has no problem seeing a modest number of carries, even though he insists he could handle a larger load because he is fully recovered from a torn medial collateral ligament and compression fracture in his right knee that he suffered last season with Denver.

He will do whatever the Browns want him to do … as long as the results continue to be what they’ve been for the past two weeks.

“We’re winning, so it’s all good,” McGahee said. “That’s what I came here to do: win.”

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