Duke Johnson's concussion has aggravated the Browns' headache at running back.
Johnson is following the NFL's protocol on head injuries after the rookie sustained a concussion in the first half of Saturday night's 31-7 win over Tampa Bay. Coach Mike Pettine said Sunday that Johnson, whose exhibition debut ended after he was rocked on a hit by Buccaneers cornerback Mike Jenkins, could be sidelined for some time.
The Browns have major plans this season for Johnson, a versatile third-round pick and Miami's career rushing leader. However, he hasn't been able to stay healthy.
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He missed Cleveland's first two preseason games and was limited throughout training camp by a hamstring issue -- a condition he said dates to high school. Johnson only carried the ball once and caught one pass against the Buccaneers, so the Browns still don't know what Johnson can do.
"We have seen what he can do in practice and that is important," Pettine said. "That is why we were so positive and optimistic about it. Football is about availability. He hasn't been available for much of the preseason. While we are hopeful about the potential, at the same time, it is discouraging to not have him out there."
Johnson's injury, and those to veteran Shaun Draughn and Glenn Winston, has left the Browns thin at running back. Second-year backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell have not produced as expected and Pettine said the team may consider other options at the position.
One of them could be Ray Rice.
The former Baltimore back, released by the Ravens following his domestic abuse case, is available and waiting for a second chance. Pettine has acknowledged the Browns have discussed the possibility of signing Rice, who played for Cleveland running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery in Baltimore.
Pettine did not mention Rice by name when asked specifically about him Sunday.
"If we do come to the decision that we need to add a back that is not here, we'll look at the list of backs that are available," he said.
Rice is reportedly in excellent shape and excited for an opportunity to play. The Browns have to first consider if he can help them, and also what kind of public backlash they could face in signing a player with his reputation.
Fortunately, the Browns aren't looking for another quarterback, too.
Josh McCown threw two touchdown passes in Cleveland's impressive win, but the 36-year-old also took several big hits. McCown completed 17 of 23 passes for 117 yards, but it was his ability to walk away from several jarring tackles that were more noteworthy than any statistics.
Pettine was pleased by McCown's performance, which came against the team that released him, but said his starting quarterback has to be smarter with the ball.
"They jumped offside on the one and we had a free play, and he ended up taking an unnecessary hit," Pettine said. "He is a competitive guy. I knew that it meant a little bit more to him being Tampa. We talked about that last night. He has to understand that it is a long season and we need him out there."
Pettine said McCown will not play in Thursday's exhibition finale at Chicago, and that some of Cleveland's other starters will be rested as the team gears up for the Sept. 13 opener against the Jets.
The Browns were hoping to finally get a look at wide receiver-in-training Terrelle Pryor, but the former NFL quarterback was held out with a hamstring injury that has lingered for a month. Pryor's chances of making Cleveland's 53-man roster have diminished, but Pettine said it's not "make or break" for him to be on the field against the Bears.
"I'm not going to deal with an absolute, saying he has to play, but we want to see him out there," Pettine said. "We're hopeful he'll be out there. I can't say today that he definitely will, but he should be. We're hopeful. He was close to being able to go, and give it another week, we're hopeful he'll be out there and we'll be able to see him."
NOTES: Pettine did not have an update on QB Johnny Manziel, who has been shut down by a sore right elbow. An MRI showed no structural damage, and the Browns still believe rest will take care of Manziel's issue.