'Old-man' McGahee chasing new life with Browns

BEREA — Willis McGahee is a playful old cuss, the kind who would dive off a cliff just to prove he still has it.

It’s hard to tell, though, whether he actually believes himself when he says, as if there were ever any doubt, that he has 100-yard games left in him.

Nobody his age has 100-yard games left in him. Running backs his age are ex-running backs.

That’s an exaggeration, but not by much.

Even the best backs soon turn into castoffs.

Prime examples well familiar to the men who run the Browns offense that needs a strong game out of McGahee on Sunday at Kansas City:

• Jamal Lewis gave the Browns an expansion-era best 1,304 rushing yards at age 28 in 2007. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski didn’t get nearly as much from him in 2008. Lewis couldn’t find work after he turned 30.

• LaDainian Tomlinson had eight straight 1,000-yard seasons before he turned 30 in 2009, when he gave Norv Turner’s Chargers 730 yards at a measly 3.3 per carry. Tomlinson spent the next year with the Jets, then was gone.

• Frank Gore, who is having a nice year for the 49ers at age 30, should be nervous. The average age of the other nine backs in the current top 10, based on 2013 rushing yards, is 24.8.

McGahee is part of a run of October birthdays for key Browns. That alone should be enough to make him nervous.

Brian Hoyer turned 28 the day he should have been starting against the Detroit Lions. He was awaiting knee surgery. Brandon Weeden turned 30 the next day. He was benched a week later.

McGahee turned 32 on Monday.

Being a playful cuss, he rolled with the punch when someone asked him if he is out to make a statement for old-guy ball carriers?

Does he relate to other backs who have done well this close to Medicare?

“I don’t even know,” McGahee said before Thursday’s practice. “Who was? Can you tell me? If you wouldn’t even know, how would I?”

If one searches around, one can find a handful of old running backs who have had decent to very good years. Some examples:

• Franco Harris was 33 when he gave the Steelers the last of his 1,000-yard seasons, in 1983.

• Walter Payton was 31 when he ran for 1,551 yards on a 1985 Bears team that won a Super Bowl. He turned 32 before the next season, when he ran for 1,333 yards.

• Emmitt Smith was 31 when he ran for 1,203 yards (4.1 yards a carry) in 2000. His last 1,000-yard year came the next year when he was 32 (1,021 yards, 3.9 average).

• Tiki Barber turned 31 five months before the 2006 season, when he ran for 1,662 yards (5.1 average). He retired before he turned 32.

• Fred Taylor gave the Jaguars 1,202 yards (5.1 average) in 2007. Three weeks before he turned 32, he contributed to a win over Pittsburgh in a playoff game.
Even for the most durable backs, though, the wall is never on the far horizon. Curtis Martin, for example, had a career year (1,697 yards, 12 TDs) for the 2004 Jets, at age 31. At 32, he regressed to 735 yards at 3.3 per carry.

McGahee has been a good but not great back in his career, landing in the next echelon behind the backs listed above. He has rushed for 8,300 yards.
The Browns claimed him off the scrap heap after trading Trent Richardson. His 32nd birthday celebration did not include gifts wrapped in his 2013 stats sheet, which reads: 70 carries, 203 yards, 2.9 average, one TD.

The Browns need him to be more than those numbers indicate, insofar as the weakness in Kansas City’s defense is against the run.

McGahee talks as if he can deliver.

“I’m making the right reads,” he said. “I think I’m doing pretty good. You look at the numbers, and ...”

He would love to make them look better. He says he doesn’t worry about how other running backs have fared, young or old.

“I don’t try to pattern my game after anybody,” he said. “I portray Willis McGahee.

“I would love to come out and bust that 90-yarder, but that doesn’t happen to me. I’m a big guy. I’m a guy who, as the game goes on, I get better and better.”

It remains to be seen how the insertion of Jason Campbell into the No. 1 quarterback role will change the running game.

“When we’re down 14-0 or something like that, there’s not going to be a run game,” McGahee said, alluding to the score after one quarter at Green Bay. “If we come out and do what we’re supposed to do, we’ve got a chance.”

The last time the Browns won, against Buffalo, the old man ran 26 times. He only gained 72 yards, but it was a win, and, to hear him tell it, he could see 100 from there.

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