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Surprise, surprise: Cleveland Browns want to run the football

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The Sports Xchange
Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell runs the ball during fourth-quarter action against the Baltimore Ravens. File photo by Pete Marovich/UPI
Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell runs the ball during fourth-quarter action against the Baltimore Ravens. File photo by Pete Marovich/UPI | License Photo

BEREA, Ohio -- A year ago, the Cleveland Browns rushed the ball 350 times which, along with the Detroit Lions also rushing 350 times, marked the fewest attempts in the NFL and 66 fewer carries than the league average.

That number is far below what head coach Hue Jackson, who calls the plays, wants. It is safe to predict lead running back Isaiah Crowell and his sidekick, Duke Johnson, will be busier in 2017.

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"We have to run the ball more," Jackson said after practice Wednesday in the second week of OTAs. "I'll be the first to tell you that. I beat myself up about that. I'm a coach that likes to run the ball, but we all recognize where we were in games last year. Trying to play from behind is hard."

The Browns, 1-15 a year ago, were outscored, 452-264. They lost by 10 or more points 10 times.

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Jackson, when asked if he is really a coach who prefers to "chuck the ball all over the place," jokingly quoted Browns quarterback Brock Osweiler to defend his preference for running plays.

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Osweiler, convinced he should be the starting quarterback, made his case last week by saying "look at my film the last two years," referring to his time with the Broncos and Texans. Osweiler is a combined 13-8 as a starter the last two seasons.

"Somebody said the other day, 'Go look at my stats or go look at my film?'" Jackson said. "Go look at my film."

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Crowell rushed 198 times for 952 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. His 4.8 yards per carry average was the highest for a Browns running back with at least 150 carries since Kevin Mack rushed for 1,104 yards on 222 carries - a 5.0 average - in 1985.

Crowell's timing was good; he was a restricted free agent and the Browns secured him for 2017 with a second-round tender. Crowell signed the tender, but not until after missing the start of the offseason program.

The Browns signed linebackers Jamie Collins and Chris Kirksey plus guard Joel Bitonio, punter Britton Colquitt and long snapper Charley Hughlett to multi-year extensions - but they could not come to an agreement to secure Crowell long-term.

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"I feel like everybody wants a long-term deal," Crowell said after practice. "That was one of my goals, but I'm just here right now trying to get better with my team and trying to have a winning season so I'm just focused on myself and my team.

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"I'm going to do what's best for me when (free agency) time comes, but everybody wants a long-term deal. That's the goal. That's what I'm aiming for. I'm just trying to focus on winning and getting better right now."

Jackson said he met with Crowell and had a "candid conversation" about the contract situation, but Jackson would not say what was discussed.

"I'm going to leave that between me and him," Jackson said, "But he's here and he's excited to be here. He understands where he is.

"We all want to make those things happen as we go throughout this. We don't know that it can or it won't. But you can't do anything if you're not here participating. These are his teammates and the guys he's going to fight with this year and he needs to be around them. He made the decision to be back here and he's done an outstanding job."

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