Steven King

Browns Hope Injury Bug Plays Less Of A Starring Role In 2013

Created on May. 20, 2013 8:33 PM EST

It seems fitting that the Cleveland Browns ended the 2012 season with 13 players on injured reserve - an unlucky number for some unlucky players. Some of those players, such as WR Mohamed Massaquoi and LBs Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong, are no longer with the Browns.

But three significant players are still with the club in ILB James-Michael Johnson, LG Jason Pinkston and SS T.J. Ward. Then there’s RB Trent Richardson, who was not on IR but could (and probably should) have been.

Let’s take a look at them:

Richardson – The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, he played the final nine games with two broken ribs but was still able to rush for 950 yards and nine touchdowns while finishing second on the team with 51 receptions. Yet, for some strange reason, he has been criticized by some people in Cleveland for having a subpar season. That’s beyond stunning. How painful – and tough to play with – is a broken rib, let alone two? Very much so, especially for running backs, who take shots to their midsection almost every play.

Former Browns RB Kevin Mack, now working in the team’s Alumni Department, recalled when he had bruised ribs early in his career nearly 30 years ago.

“I was sitting in the locker room one day when someone told a joke,” Mack said. “I started to laugh, then I immediately doubled over in pain. It really hurt. I began thinking to myself, ‘Man, I can’t even laugh. How in the world am I ever going to play?’ ”

If Richardson can return to full health – and there’s no reason to believe otherwise – then we will see just how good he is and how much that will add to the offense.

Ward – There are some legitimate concerns about him and his health. He had some injury issues at the University of Oregon, and has ended up on IR in his last two seasons with Cleveland. A sprained foot caused him to miss eight games in 2011 and he sat out the final two contests last season with a knee injury.

That’s a total of 10 games, or about 30 percent of the last two years. The Browns’ problems at safety are well-documented. As such, they need more – at least availability – from Ward, a second-round draft pick in 2010 who is one of the main cogs for the back end of the defense.

Johnson – A fourth-round draft choice from Nevada, Johnson was a pleasant surprise for Cleveland last season, playing in 10 games with eight starts. But he missed the first four games with a rib problem and a knee injury shelved him for the last two.

But that was as the strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. The Browns, of course, are implementing a 3-4 this year and Johnson will probably end up manning the other inside spot next to tackling machine D’Qwell Jackson. However, he absolutely has to stay healthy since the Browns are woefully thin on the inside.

Pinkston – He started all 16 games as a rookie in 2011 and then the first six of last season before a blood clot ended his year. Forget about football. That was a scary life moment.

The Browns are expecting him to be back at full health this year and, if he returns, he will compete with John Greco for the starting job. Greco, a product of Youngstown Boardman High School and the University of Toledo, replaced Pinkston last season and did a good job. The Browns could also use a rotation of Pinkston, Greco and Shawn Lauvao – the starter at right guard the last two seasons – at both guard spots.

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