Browns senior offensive assistant and wide receivers coach Al Saunders was on the Rams coaching staff when the Rams were “The Greatest Show on Turf” and he spent a lot of that time watching running back Marshall Faulk make big plays in the passing game.
That left Saunders with an appreciation for how much a running back with strong receiving skills can help an offense and he believes he has one in Duke Johnson. Johnson doesn’t have anything close to Faulk’s resume, but he has caught 114 passes over the last two seasons and the team has been moving him to the slot and other spots around the field this summer to take advantage of that ability.
Saunders likens Johnson to “the queen on the chess board” because he can go anywhere on the board and create advantages for the offense.
“So how do you treat Duke? Do you treat him as a running back?” Saunders said, via Cleveland.com. “If so, you’re probably getting in a lot of base defense, and now from there you shift out. You shift him out, now you get matchups on linebackers and strong safeties and interior people. They treat him as a receiver, and now you have a game advantage in the run game because you have one less physical person. So if you have a player like that and it allows you to be very creative on offense, it allows you to expand and play from sideline to sideline with players that are normally in the backfield.”
The Browns’ need for a long-term answer at quarterback has been well chronicled and the search may not come to an end this year, but having versatile pieces like Johnson around whoever is under center can make the process a bit less painful if it plays out the way Saunders hopes.