The Browns entered the week with one healthy running back on their active roster, but rookie Duke Johnson has cleared concussion protocol and will practice this week with the intent of playing Sunday vs. the Jets.
“He’s fully cleared,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said of Johnson. “When you come out of the concussion protocol you’re either cleared or you’re not.
“We’re not in pads. He’s not going to get hit today but he needs the work, the actual reps of playing.”
A hamstring injury kept Johnson out for three weeks of training camp, and one quarter into his preseason debut Aug. 29 Johnson suffered a concussion. Wednesday marked his first practice since then.
A third-round pick, Johnson started his lone preseason game. That’s either a sign the Browns have very high hopes for him, or that the team was down on second-year runners Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, neither of whom had a strong camp. West was traded to the Titans last Sunday, leaving Crowell as the only healthy back on the roster before Johnson was cleared.
Pettine said the plan is for Crowell to start Sunday and for Johnson to be watched closely in practices in hopes he can contribute.
“If (Johnson) had taken every rep we’d be a lot more confident about putting him out there for extended snaps,” Pettine said. “If he puts a solid couple days together here, there’s no reason to think he won’t play a significant role in the game.”
Pettine said second-year cornerback Pierre Desir also cleared concussion protocol, leaving 2014 first-round cornerback Justin Gilbert (hip flexor) as the only player in question for the season opener. Pettine said backup quarterback Johnny Manziel had “natural soreness” after returning to practice Monday but that was expected following a two-week absence. Manziel should be the No. 2 quarterback Sunday.