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Hue Jackson impressed with Browns’ Duke Johnson-Isaiah Crowell RB tandem

Posted Jan 15, 2016

From afar, Browns head coach liked what he saw

Hue Jackson was on the sidelines as Duke Johnson Jr. worked out for scouts, general managers and coaches from all 32 NFL teams at his Pro Day.

A little less than a year later, Jackson was on the sidelines of Paul Brown Stadium when Johnson caught his second and final touchdown of his rookie season.

His takeaway from both events was exactly the same.

“He has some hands,” Jackson said emphatically Friday during a Cleveland Browns Daily interview.

In his third day as Browns head coach, Jackson conducted a number of interviews with coaching candidates while simultaneously brushing up on the roster he inherits heading into the 2016 season. He’s talked on the phone, swapped texts and even met with a few in person since he was hired Wednesday and he’s methodically getting a better grasp of what they can do on the field. That he prepared for the Browns twice this season as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator gives him a leg up on some of the team’s defensive players but he also knows a thing or two about what Cleveland has on offense.

Even though it was an up and down season for Cleveland’s running attack, there was no ignoring what he saw in Johnson and second-year running back Isaiah Crowell.

Johnson finished with the second-most receptions by a rookie in Browns history (61) and was second among all NFL rookies, trailing only Oakland’s Amari Cooper. Tack on his 104 carries, and Johnson had 165 touches for an average of 5.5 yards.

“He can catch with it, he can run with it, he's a three-down back. He'll protect,” Jackson said. “He has exactly what you're looking for.”

In Jackson’s first year as offensive coordinator for Cincinnati, with the young tandem of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, the run game posted its highest yards per game average (134.1) since 2000. This past season, Hill (794) and Bernard (734) both cleared 700 yards, Hill was among the league’s leaders with 11 touchdowns and Bernard added 49 receptions for 472 yards.

The Browns, meanwhile, finished the season 22nd in rushing offense, but it took a late-season surge to reach that point. From Week 7 to Week 13, Cleveland averaged 56 rushing yards per game. From Week 14 to Week 17, the Browns averaged 160.5.

Crowell had a big hand in those increased totals. He amassed a career-best 145 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers and piled up another 88 against the Chiefs in the Browns’ penultimate game of the year.

In two seasons, Crowell has 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging a shade under 4 yards per carry.

“When I watch Crow, I just go watch the San Francisco game. I mean, ‘are you kidding me?’ The guy played big time,” Jackson said. “What I want him to understand he's got to do that all the time. We're not looking for it some of the time. The big time backs in this league, they're able to produce all of the time. That's what my challenge would be to him. Let's take it to the next level and be that player week in and week out.”

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