BEREA — Trent Richardson was never himself as a rookie. Starting in the preseason and continuing through the regular-season finale, he dealt with knee, rib and ankle injuries and was robbed of the explosion the Browns saw when they drafted him with the No. 3 pick.
After Richardson stood on the sideline Thursday as he continued to miss organized team activities with a muscle strain near his right shin, he dismissed the notion he’ll always be dealing with some type of injury.
“I know in my mind, well, everybody knows that it’s not going to be near like last year, being hurt and injured,” Richardson said. “Injury-prone is not going to be me and I just can’t wait to really get back up and running.”
Richardson, expected to carry a big load as Cleveland’s featured running back, has missed more than a week of practice. He insists the strain is minor and the team is being extra cautious, and had some calming words for the fretting fans.
“Ain’t no biggie,” he said. “Ain’t nothing to worry about.
“I could be out there, but they want to be cautious about it and just make sure I’m healthy when it’s time to be right. We want to make sure I’m 100 percent for the real (training) camp.”
Coach Rob Chudzinski said the decision will be made next week whether Richardson will participate in the mandatory minicamp that runs Tuesday through Thursday. Training camp doesn’t start until July, and that’s when the preparation for the season begins in earnest.
Richardson played 15 games in 2012, rushing for 950 yards, a 3.6 average and 11 touchdowns, despite the series of health issues.
He had arthroscopic knee surgery that cost him the preseason, then suffered a couple of broken ribs in Week 6. He wore a flak jacket, couldn’t breathe normally, had to sleep sitting up and was limited the rest of the season — until spraining an ankle that sidelined him for the finale.
He had separate surgeries to repair torn ligaments in both ankles in high school and a knee scope after his career at Alabama.
“I’m not concerned,” Chudzinski said. “I know he is healthy from all the things from this past season. This is just something that we are working through and he will be fine. We are being conservative with him.”
Richardson, who told trainers when he felt something in his lower leg while running during practice, takes responsibility for staying healthy and being available to the team.
“I think it’s just as far as keeping my body in shape and eating the right stuff and making sure I’m doing the right thing, taking care of myself outside football,” he said. “When people say stuff about being injury-prone, I think it’s just a mindset, and I know that’s not me.
“It’s a lot to put in for me on my end with a lot of effort, and being aware of everything and taking care of my body. So I got to make sure I do everything I can to be at the top of my game to just elevate in everything I can do.”
Richardson began practice Thursday with the trainers, running and exercising on the side. He then watched team drills from behind the huddle. He doesn’t like standing on the sideline — even for one practice — and never wants to get used to it.
“Aah, man. It’s terrible, man,” he said. “It’s hard to just watch. I do want to be out there. I tell Coach every day that I can go. I put my helmet on or something.
“If they let me go, I’m gonna go. Coach makes the decision and I’m happy with his decision.”
The veterans are released from team headquarters next week and aren’t due back until training camp. Richardson plans to train on the beaches of Florida and visit Dr. James Andrews’ clinic in his hometown of Pensacola to make sure he’s 100 percent for the preseason.
Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya took the first-team repetitions in Richardson’s absence, sometimes sharing the backfield. Chudzinski said it’s a positive they got to work with the starters, but quarterback Brandon Weeden maintained it’s critical to have Richardson healthy for the season.
“It’s huge. He’s going to make this offense better,” Weeden said. “Yeah, we talk about all the balls being thrown downfield and doing all those things, but you’ve got to hand it to 33. He’s too vital for this offense to be good, be productive. So we need him back ASAP.”
Richardson took awhile to get comfortable last season after missing most of training camp. He said the time missed this year hasn’t been a setback in his learning of new coordinator Norv Turner’s offense.
“I’m in every meeting and I know everything,” he said.
Richardson had a reason to smile while riding the stationary bike. Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown was hired as a special adviser earlier this week.
“Man, it makes a big difference,” Richardson said. “I know he’s not going to be my coach, but I know I will be getting advice from him and I know our coach will be going to him about things, learning old-school football. That’s what football needs. For him to be here is an honor for us. It’s a big plus and I’m happy to have him.”
Brown and Richardson developed a relationship last year after Brown called him “ordinary” before the draft. Brown said Wednesday that Richardson could be great if he stays healthy.
“I don’t really call it injuries,” Richardson said. “I say the only thing that can keep me from achieving my goals is me. And that’s keeping my head clear outside of football, on football, doing the right thing all the time.
“But he knows what he’s talking about, so I might as well follow along and get on the right path and do what he tells me to do to make sure I stay injury-free.”
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