BEREA — Fullback Chris Ogbonnaya proudly calls himself “one of the utility guys” on the Browns’ offense, along with tight ends Gary Barnidge and MarQueis Gray.
Going forward, though, Ogbonnaya will have a much more defined role.
Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner both indicated they plan on giving the 6-foot, 225-pounder more carries in hopes of jump-starting their moribund running game.
“Absolutely, that sounds good,” said Ogbonnaya, who is averaging a team-best 5.3 yards per rushing attempt. “Anytime you have an opportunity to help the team, you want to take advantage of it, whether that’s blocking more or catching more.
“I just want to do my job, so if that comes down to carrying the ball more, then so be it.”
Though the Browns’ previous coaching staff saw “Oby” as little more than a spare part, their current braintrust has relied heavily on him.
Despite seeing most of his time as a blocking back, the Houston Texans’ castoff ranks third on the team in receptions (28), rushing yards (101), and touchdowns (2).
“For me, playing fullback, playing running back, playing special teams, a little receiver, that’s how I like it,” said Ogbonnaya, who is in his third season with Cleveland and his fourth in the NFL. “I want to be that versatile player, and the last couple of weeks, I’ve been able to do everything. It’s definitely been fun.”
With the Browns on their bye week — and their next game being at AFC North Division leader Cincinnati on Nov. 17 — it’s imperative that Ogbonnaya uses his time off wisely.
Turner revealed that the University of Texas product has been dealing with a rib injury that limited his reps Sunday during Cleveland’s 24-18 win over Baltimore. The veteran playcaller added that he needs Ogbonnaya for specific sets on 15-20 plays a game, but hopes that figure can double as he heals.
“If he’s healthy and recovered from where he’s beat up a little bit, then he’ll get more carries,” Turner said. “We’ve been managing it, so he can stay in the game. But if he can give us more, then I think we can get back to running the ball better.”
Statistically, the Browns almost can’t get any worse than they have been through nine games.
Leading rusher Willis McGahee has logged a team-high 100 carries and been a workhorse of late, but has the lowest average per carry in the NFL at 2.62.
The only other qualifiers with sub-3.00 averages are Baltimore’s Bernard Pierce (2.67) and Ray Rice (2.71), and Indianapolis’ Trent Richardson (2.99).
Further illustrating Cleveland’s ground woes, Richardson remains its second-leading rusher with 105 yards — despite being traded seven weeks ago — and has its top average per game of 52.5 yards.
Primary kickoff returner Fozzy Whittaker is the third and final running back on the roster, but has only been handed the ball seven times since being claimed off waivers from San Diego on Sept. 30.
Across the board, the Browns sit among the bottom 10 in the league in all four key rushing categories: average per carry (No. 23, 3.7), yards per game (No. 25, 81.6), attempts per game (No. 28, 22.2), and touchdowns per game (tied for last, 1).
“That’s something we’re taking a good look at this week, the running game in general,” Chudzinski said. “Getting Oby some more carries, we want to do. We’ll do a better job of getting all three guys in when we need to, and rolling a little bit more and spreading it out.”
While all three running backs are popular in the locker room, Ogbonnaya has been with the team the longest. His perseverance after being cut by the Rams and Texans is well known, as is the professionalism he displayed after ex-coach Pat Shurmur buried him on the bench.
According to tackle Joe Thomas, the 27-year-old has earned every opportunity he has been given, which is why he will be rooting for him against the Bengals and beyond.
“Oby has done a great job being our jack of all trades and he’s looked really good when he’s gotten the chance to run with the ball,” the six-time Pro Bowl selection said.
“He’s the consummate pro and the ultimate teammate with the way he fits in here. I’m really impressed with Oby. We’re lucky to have him.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.