The countdown to 2017 Browns Training Camp has officially hit single digits. Nine days and counting.
And after breaking down the quarterback position Monday, we're looking at the players who are striving to hit double-digit touches on a regular basis this season.
THE RUNNING BACKS
Duke Johnson Jr.
George Atkinson III
Darius Jackson (reserve/injured)
Danny Vitale (FB)
What happened at OTAs?: Crowell, entering his fourth season with the Browns, and Johnson, entering his third, resumed the roles they've filled during their respective times in Cleveland. The duo is a major reason why this position group is one of the most stable on the entire team. Both players smiled at the prospect of more usage in 2017, a hot topic throughout the spring as coach Hue Jackson expressed regret about the games in which they didn't get the ball on a regular basis. Johnson, who has hauled in more than 100 passes during his first two seasons, worked with the wide receivers during a number of periods, flashing the kind of hands that make him one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league. The competition for the third and fourth running back spot lost a significant figure, as Jackson, who was claimed off waivers from Dallas late last season, went down with a serious injury and was placed on injured reserve.
Under the radar: Dayes, who was selected with the Browns' last of 10 picks in the seventh round, believes he should have gone much earlier and is carrying that mindset into what he knows is a competition to make the 53-man roster. Dayes ran hard when given the opportunity during OTAs and minicamp and broke off a handful of long ones. He'll be up against Atkinson III, Magee and whomever else is added to the position in the coming month in his quest to go from second-to-last player selected in the 2017 draft to a key member of an NFL roster. "Hopefully, he keeps that chip on all season and he will show us why we drafted him," Jackson said. "That is what this is all about."
Variables to consider: The Browns were the NFL's top rushing team after four weeks last season but the opportunities to pad those stats decreased in a big way during the heart of the schedule. Cleveland finished 19th in the league but has much higher ambitions for 2017, meaning a big increase in usage could be coming Crowell's and Johnson's way. "Have got to run the ball more," Jackson said. "I will be the first to tell you that. I beat myself up about that. I am a coach that likes to run the ball." There won't just be a change in play-calling. The Browns added some big names and bodies to an offensive line that was depleted by injuries and inconsistency last season. The additions of right guard Kevin Zeitler and center JC Tretter shored up a major weakness and gave the Browns just one spot of uncertainty on the offensive line (right tackle) heading into training camp.
Quote to note: "I think Crowell is poised for a big year. He deserves it. He worked extremely hard a year ago, him and Duke both. Our running game needs to come to the forefront." -- Jackson
Stat tracker: Crowell averaged more than 15 carries in Cleveland's first four games and last four of 2016. He amassed 741 of his 952 rushing yards during those stretches. During the eight games in the middle, Crowell averaged 10 carries for 26 yards.
How many were kept at last year's 53-man cutdown?: Four running backs, one fullback