Cleveland's Jerome Harrison, a former WSU standout, must prove himself again | NFL
Despite rushing for 561 yards in his final three games for the Cleveland Browns last season, ex-Washington State running back Jerome Harrison must prove himself again.
The Associated Press
BEREA, Ohio — So Jerome Harrison helps the Cleveland Browns win their final four games last season, surpassing franchise rushing records held by the iconic Jim Brown while gaining 286 yards in one game.
And what does ex-Washington State standout Harrison get when he returns to training camp? He is faced with doubts, cynics, questions and a battle for his starting job.
In the offseason, the Browns drafted a running back and also traded for one.
"I'm still not respected. That's fine with me," the 27-year-old Harrison said in the August heat after one of the Browns' first workouts. "You just have to prove it every year.
"Anybody can have one good game or two good games. The goal is to put them back-to-back-to-back and just keep having them."
In seven starts last season, Harrison gained 862 yards on 194 carries and scored five touchdowns. He was perhaps the main reason the Browns went from an offense that didn't run for a touchdown until the 13th game to the NFL's best rushing attack over the last four games.
Harrison's running mate, fullback Lawrence Vickers, was asked what calls clicked during the final month.
"Everything," Vickers said with a laugh. "Everything they ran worked, for some reason. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was just us hitting our stride."
After gaining a mere 9 yards in a 13-6 victory over Pittsburgh on Dec. 10, Harrison piled up 286 yards — beating Brown's franchise mark by 49 yards — on 34 carries and scored on runs of 71, 8 and 28 yards in a 41-34 victory at Kansas City.
A week later, Harrison picked up 148 yards and a TD on a club-record 39 carries as the Browns beat Oakland 23-9. He closed out the season with 127 yards on 33 carries and another score in a 23-17 victory over Jacksonville.
That gave Harrison 561 yards rushing over the last three games. The only NFL backs to gain more yards over a similar span are O.J. Simpson (twice), Earl Campbell (twice), Walter Payton, Ricky Williams and Mike Anderson.
Cleveland coach Eric Mangini, whose job was saved by the late rushing revival, described what the running game was like in the stretch run.
"It was like a flood," he said, smiling. "That's all it was.
"We needed to get that dam out of the way and then it flowed."
Even though Harrison was the central figure in that flood and also showed improvement as a blocker last season, it didn't earn him many pats on the back.
The Browns traded up to take second-round draft pick Montario Hardesty of Tennessee. Some observers pegged Hardesty as the starter for the opener Sept. 12 at Tampa Bay, even though that prediction took a hit when Hardesty twisted his right knee two days before camp opened. Hardesty is rehabbing the knee, which didn't require surgery.
The Browns also traded with Denver to get big back Peyton Hillis, who has been one of the bright spots during training camp. He figures to back up Vickers at fullback, see action as a receiver out of the backfield in passing situations and to spell Harrison and Hardesty at running back.
"At this moment, they've pretty much had me do a little bit of everything," the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Hillis said in his Arkansas drawl.
Meanwhile, some wonder if Harrison, a 5-9, 205-pound Michigan native who seldom played much until his late heroics last season, can do the job over the long haul.
"Quit writing it!" he yelled at reporters, in jest, referring to questions about his durability. "No, I don't get tired of hearing it. It's because of my size. That's just something people write about. I don't know what the heck it means.
"When big running backs get hurt, it's OK, it's fine. But when a little running back gets hurt, he's injury prone and this and that. You just laugh at stuff like that because it really doesn't make any sense."
Harrison, who got married this summer, teased and laughed with reporters. But it is clear he chafes at all the doubt swirling around him.
"He does have a chip on his shoulder," Vickers said. "This is a year where he's coming in off an amazing last year. People want to see if he's for real or not. And he's for real."
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