The Cleveland Browns are four days away from their preseason opener against the Washington Redskins and no position on the roster is as unclear as running back.
The unit has been battered with so many injuries that general manager Ray Farmer had to sign both Timothy Flanders and Jalen Parmele early last week.
Duke Johnson Jr., (hamstring) has been ruled out for Thursday's game and Shaun Draughn (hand) will likely join him on the sidelines after missing practice Sunday with a cast on his hand. Terrance West (calf) returned to the field Sunday after missing an entire week of work. Glenn Winston had arthroscopic surgery on his knee last week and hasn't strapped on pads yet. Isaiah Crowell, who led the Browns with eight touchdowns last season, seems blessed to remain unscathed.
Such is life in the NFL.
"Practice goes on," running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery said. "That is just like in a game. One guy gets up. Next man on deck. It is not frustrating for me. It is the guys behind them – it is a golden opportunity to step up and show people what you can do."
Before his thumb injury, Draughn had been the biggest surprise at the position in camp. The Browns signed the journeyman in December after stints with the Chiefs, Ravens, Bears and Chargers. But the 27-year-old seemed to carve out a role with his soft hands and shifty feet out of the backfield.
"He is a quiet kid and that's how he is on the field," coach Mike Pettine said. "He just does his job. There is not a lot of flash there. Like a lot of guys, he very quietly fills his grade sheet with pluses."
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has said he will ride the hot hand at running back and take a committee approach if necessary. And while the hot-hand theory can accentuate Cleveland's newfound depth at the position, Montgomery would like to see a true starter emerge.
"The fact is that we are looking for that guy that you can just strap the saddle on and they say, 'Hey I want the job,'" Montgomery said. "Right now, it is a close race."
Last season, West started six games, Crowell started four and former Brown Ben Tate saw six starts before being released in November. Cleveland's 108 rush yards per game ranked 17th in the NFL.