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RB Chris Jennings' emergence as a reliable contributor was one of the Browns' most pleasant surprises last season.
Jennings, who didn't sign with Cleveland until August, was promoted to the active roster in October. By December, he was a key part of the rushing attack, and never more so than in the Browns' surprising defeat of Pittsburgh in Week 14, when he rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. In all, the 24-year-old Jennings racked up 220 yards on 63 carries.
"I liked that when I was given an opportunity, I produced," Jennings said. "Regardless of the situation, I produced."
Jennings again will compete for playing time in the Browns' backfield. Jerome Harrison, who finished the '09 season by rushing for 561 yards in the final three games, likely has the edge to be the starter, but the 5-10, 219-pound Jennings is a stouter alternative to Harrison (5-9, 205).
Jennings fondly remembers the upset of Pittsburgh for numerous reasons, including the birth of his son, Chris Jr., just one day before the game. He scored the Browns' lone touchdown, a 10-yard run off right end that showcased his speed and power. Jennings outran LB James Farrior to the edge and finished the run by lowering his shoulder and sending CB William Gay flying.
Jennings, who played for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes before joining the Browns, aims to be "a tad more patient" as a runner this season. "When I start going, I go," he said. He noted, "Coming from Canada, I'd get five to 10 yards to keep on going," referring to the CFL's wider field.
He's also working on improving his speed, using a variety of exercises and drills, such as 110-yard sprints, to maintain a higher rate of speed for a longer period of time. "One thing you have to do is keep your body guessing," said Jennings, who was a personal trainer before reaching the NFL, of his workout strategy.
The Browns could have a significantly different look on offense this season. Ex-Panther Jake Delhomme likely will be the new starting quarterback. Less is known about specific schematic changes to the attack, but alterations are likely with West Coast offense expert Mike Holmgren now the club's president.
Whatever Jennings' role is in 2010, he is ready for it. He said his stint in the CFL taught him humility and makes him appreciate the opportunity he has now.
"I love the game with a passion," he said.
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