Jamel White could be a third-down back if he doesn't crack the starting lineup.
By PHIL NOVAK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
BEREA -- For Cleveland Browns fans, watching the team try to run the ball the last two seasons was simply dreadful. The infamous "Metcalf up the middle" suddenly didn't seem as bad as watching the backs try to gain more than two yards on a run.
But the preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers, a 10-3 win, showed that a new core of young running backs could make this season different.
It all started with good work by starting running back Jamel White. He didn't break off any long runs, but he helped sustain a 96-yard scoring drive with tough runs up the middle when they were needed. He topped off the drive with a 9-yard touchdown reception that put the Browns on top for good.
"Right now, good things are happening to me," White said. "But I don't try to get caught up in it. If I get caught up in it, it might take away from how hard I work. One day you might be the starter, one day you might not. When Sept. 9 comes around, it might be a whole different running back [out] there."
The third-year back out of South Dakota showed a little burst of speed and some strength, bursting through holes and pushing piles forward. He finished with 11 rushes for only 29 yards (a 2.6-yard average), but added four catches for 22 yards -- a 5.5-yard average -- and showed why some observers think he will make a great third-down back if he doesn't crack the starting lineup.
The credit: "I just go out there and work hard," he said. "But the offensive line doesn't get enough credit. You don't get to hear on the loudspeaker Roman Oben or Steve Zahursky or Jeremy McKinney, but those are the ones that are really making the plays, because it starts with them first."
The line was certainly busting open some holes. The team rushed for a total of 127 yards on 28 rushes, a 4.5-yard average per carry.
Rookie James Jackson, Butch Davis' running back for the last two years at the University of Miami, came out with the second-team offense and led the team with 10 rushes for 66 yards, including an amazing 33-yard run in which he cut through a hole, made a quick cut back to the left, raced down the field and finished off with a stiff arm of a Green Bay defensive back as he went out of bounds.
Second-year back Travis Prentice added eight yards on two carries, and the fan favorite, rookie Benjamin Gay, had five rushes for 24 yards in the closing minutes of the game.
The backs weren't the only ones who showed a little pizzazz. Rookie wide receiver Quincy Morgan had three catches for 52 yards, including a nice catch-and-run from a Tim Couch pass on the touchdown drive and a great out-and-up route for a 35-yard gain on a pass from Ty Detmer.
But those who watched closely saw the former Kansas State receiver make some devastating pancake-style blocks on more than a few running plays.
"That's what'll send us to the playoffs and to the Super Bowl," he said.
Make or break: "And it's one thing that'll make you one of the best, if you can go out and kick blocks for touchdowns," he said. "We take great pride in that area. It doesn't matter how good of a receiver you are, if you can't make blocks, you're not going to be here."
If he and some of his young offensive mates keep playing like they did Saturday, they're going to be here for a long time.