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Browns RB Duke Johnson knows he has big weeks ahead of him

Duke Johnson Jr. felt like he had a firm grasp of the Browns playbook before he felt a tug on his hamstring three weeks ago.

That time away from the field has only strengthened it, Johnson said after Saturday's practice, one of his most active yet since going down with the injury on the first day in full pads at the start of the month.

It's why Johnson and the Browns aren't "panicky" about the on-field time the third-round rookie has missed. His background allowed him to come to Berea with an advanced handle on pro-style offenses, and he's made the most of his time on the sidelines.

"It gave me more time to learn the playbook," Johnson said. "I think I knew the majority of the playbook before I got hurt and nothing has changed now."

The Browns drafted Johnson with hope he'd be able to not only provide competition to second-year running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, but also add a pass-catching element to the offense that simply didn't exist much last season. Without him on the field, neither has been able to transpire, but time remains for the coaches to get an impression of what they truly have in the former University of Miami standout.

Johnson impressed at rookie minicamp and OTAs, as he made plays both out of the backfield as a runner and receiver. He also lined up at a variety of spots outside of the backfield in a John DeFilippo offense that has shown a knack to move players all along the line of scrimmage.

It was enough to provide the optimism that coaches and players maintain about the impact Johnson is capable of making, but the importance of proving it in the Browns' upcoming practices can't be understated.

Neither Johnson nor coach Mike Pettine were certain about the running back's status for next Saturday's preseason trip to Tampa Bay.

"He looked really good for us when we were in shorts throughout the spring," Pettine said. "He needs some live reps. that's asking a lot of a rookie to put him out there Week 1 with minimal full speed, full contact reps with the particular units.

"This is a big week, these next two weeks are big for Duke."

Johnson's confidence hasn't wavered.

He not only bounced back from a gruesome leg injury that short-circuited his sophomore season, but he's also dealt with hamstring issues since high school. He's mostly played through them, and his production -- as exemplified by his status as Miami's all-time leading rusher -- didn't suffer.

His goals for 2015 haven't changed because of the injury, either.

"Make plays," he said. "Create mismatches in every aspect that I can."

Whether it's as the team's lead back, third-down back or some other title, will come into better shape over the next two weeks.

"The only thing that I can actually control is to come out here and play football every day," Johnson said. "I am going to push my teammates if I am not that starting guy, just know whoever is the starting guy is the best man for the job because we came out here and competed and we push each other to be the best."

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