Browns rookie running back Duke Johnson reported to team headquarters Monday for organized team activities and practiced after missing OTAs last week.
Nathan Zegura, the team’s senior media broadcaster, revealed the news on the organization’s radio show, Cleveland Browns Daily.
Practice was closed to the media Monday, but it’ll be open to reporters Tuesday.
Of the 12 players the Browns recently selected in the NFL Draft, Johnson is the only one who has yet to sign his rookie contract. However, his absence last week at OTAs, which are voluntary, wasn’t related to his contract.
Johnson, a third-round pick, dealt with a family matter in Washington, D.C., his agent, Alex Gavilla, told Cleveland.com last week. Then he attended the NFL Players Association Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles.
Johnson, the University of Miami’s all-time leading rusher, is expected to compete with second-year running backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West for a prominent role in new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo’s system. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor wants to give Johnson plenty of opportunities as a kickoff returner and is teaching him the intricacies of returning punts as well.
“I think going to the Browns, other than the weather, is a great situation,” Johnson said Friday during a video interview with 120Sports.com. “Coming from Miami to Cleveland is kind of big difference in some aspects, but I think me coming to the team, I can help out anyway I can from special teams, kick return, punt return, running back, you know, whatever it takes to help the team win.”
The 5-foot-11, 225-pound Crowell (148 carries, 607 yards, 4.1 average, eight rushing touchdowns) and the 5-10, 227-pound West (171 carries, 673 yards, 3.9 average, four rushing touchdowns) showed promise, at times, as rookies. But the 5-9, 210-pound Johnson is considered a different type of back who can help the offense as a formidable receiving threat, especially on third down.
The Browns finished last season with the fewest receptions (32) and receiving yards (226) among running backs in the NFL, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. DeFilippo has said he wants to use the backs as receivers more often.
“I think that’s one of the reasons the Browns did decide to draft me was because they needed that element in their offense,” Johnson told 120Sports.com. “I think they watched the Super Bowl just like we all did and saw what [running back Shane] Vereen was able to do to help the [New England] Patriots win. And that’s something they’re trying to implement in their offense.”
Vereen, who signed with the New York Giants this offseason, had 52 catches for 447 yards and three touchdowns this past regular season. He added 18 catches for 144 yards in the playoffs, including 11 receptions for 64 yards in the Patriots’ 28-24 Super Bowl win over the Seattle Seahawks.
Johnson wasn’t the only rookie who practiced for the first time since OTAs began.