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RB Duke Johnson makes up for lost time in big way at Browns OTAs

As he assessed the newest addition to Cleveland's backfield, Mike Pettine detailed a specific Duke Johnson run that stuck out to him at Tuesday's OTA.

"(If) we weren't playing flag football," the Browns coach said, "that would have been a 40- or 50-yard chunk."

Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas remembered it, too, on a day in which he watched most of the action from the sidelines.

"He read his blocks perfectly, he saw the seam, he was patient," Thomas said. "That's what you need as a running back. I hope we see that as the season goes on. I think you are going to see a more explosive offense this year."

Perhaps the only person in attendance who didn't have the run etched in their short-term memory was Johnson, who noted he had a "couple" at his second OTA as a Brown. He was reluctant to take credit for how they unfolded.

"I did have a couple where I was able to put a foot in the ground thanks to the O-line," Johnson said. "They created a big seam for me and I hit it. I just ran and hid behind those big guys and hit the hole when I saw it."

There's reason behind why these big runs run together for Johnson.

One, he's been accustomed to making these sorts of plays for years. Two, a lot is coming at him fast and furious as he works to make up for what he missed at the first week of OTAs.

Johnson missed the first part of OTAs, which are completely voluntary, as he attended to a family matter. At the end of the week, he was with fellow Browns rookie Vince Mayle at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles.

Johnson, who made the same kind of big plays at rookie mini camp in early May, was back with his teammates Monday and couldn't be happier about the variety of opportunities he has to make an impact as a rookie.

"I'm a change-of-pace back. I can line up anywhere," Johnson said. "I'm looking forward to the different ways they use me as a receiver or the backfield. Whatever it takes."

There's special teams, too, where Johnson is taking repetitions as both a kick and punt returner. Johnson never returned punts at Miami and had kick return duties taken off his hands as a junior, when he served as the team's bell cow running back, but he's certainly capable in both areas. As a freshman, Johnson set a single-season record with 892 return yards and added two touchdowns.

Johnson, open for anything and everything the Browns throw at him, even saw a little action Tuesday as a punt protector.

"Whatever it takes," he said. "Punts, kicks. I think that's something we look forward to doing."

The Browns got plenty of production from their two rookie running backs in 2014, as Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell combined for 1,280 yards and 12 touchdowns. The expectations are different for Johnson because he's a different kind of running back in a different set of circumstances, but his development is on the right track to add a new element to Cleveland's running attack.

"He's got a lot to learn, but he's probably a typical rookie where he is right now," Pettine said. "I think we've all seen what he can bring – the explosiveness and how we can turn a handoff or a short pass into a significant gain with a back like that."

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