By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Sidelined and hidden from public view for nearly a month, Browns rookie RB Trent Richardson might play in Cleveland's season opener.
Richardson, who underwent knee surgery Aug. 9, rode a stationary bike before Saturday's practice and remained on the field with his teammates as they began preparing for next week's game against Philadelphia. Browns coach Pat Shurmur said Richardson has been running — and even taking part in some contact drills — and that if he's able to practice this week, he'll face the Eagles.
"If he's ready, he'll play," Shurmur said.
The No. 3 overall pick in April's NFL draft, Richardson had an arthroscopic procedure done on his left knee last month, his second operation since helping Alabama win the national championship in January. Richardson did not play in any of Cleveland's four exhibition games, and before Saturday the 22-year-old hadn't been seen around Cleveland's training facility except for one day when he came out briefly to sign autographs for fans.
Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert both said Richardson, who has remained in top physical shape while he's been out, has been rehabbing inside and making major progress.
In fact, Heckert doesn't think Richardson needs much practice time to play.
"This kid is a little different cat," Heckert said. "I think he's ready to go pretty quick compared to some guys I've been around. Shape-wise, you do not have to worry about that at all."
Heckert said the Browns will be careful not overload Richardson in his first game, but if he's on the field, he's going to carry the ball.
"I don't think we're going to let him touch the ball 50 times," Heckert said. "But hey, if he's ready to go, he's ready to go."
Richardson was not available for comment. A member of the media-relations staff said Richardson left the field early to work with trainers. Reporters are only permitted to watch the first 15 minutes of practice.
The Browns are counting on Richardson to improve an offense that scored just 218 points last season. Simply having Richardson on the field will give the Eagles something to consider when they put together a game plan against a Cleveland team they throttled 27-10 in an exhibition on Aug. 24.
Richardson, who rushed for 3,130 yards and scored 35 touchdowns in college, didn't disappoint the Browns early in training camp before he got hurt and needed surgery. He showed an exceptional burst of speed, good hands and appears to be the breakaway threat the Browns have coveted for years.
LB D'Qwell Jackson compared Richardson to Jacksonville star Maurice Jones-Drew.
"He's a specimen," Jackson said. "He's small, but from my position, when he was practicing, it's hard to find him behind the offensive linemen and he's so quick and has great vision. As long as he stays healthy, he'll be a load for anybody. Not to take anything away from Jones-Drew, he's a tremendous back, I think Trent can be just as effective."
If Richardson can't start, Montario Hardesty or Brandon Jackson would take his place. Cleveland's other option at running back, Chris Ogbonnaya, is still recovering from a high ankle sprain.
Shurmur stressed the Browns will be smart with Richardson when he returns. There's no sense in pushing things in the first week. Shurmur also made it clear he didn't want to reveal too much about Richardson's situation so as not to give the Eagles any information.
"He's been doing great behind the scenes as far as getting himself ready to play," Shurmur said. "You've got to understand at this point now, we don't have to talk about that stuff, and I think it's important that our guys race to get back. As we get near the end of the week, the league will tell us what we have to talk about. There are a couple of messages behind that. Number one, I trust every player we put out there.
"The guys that are injured have got to race back. There needs to be some anxiety on their part to get back because they're watching someone else possibly take their job. Number two, I don't think it important for us to just tell the world about where we are at. That's just my feelings on that. Maybe that's just me in year two."
Count backup QB Colt McCoy among those eager to see Richardson back on the field.
"The expectations from me, from the guys in the locker room, from the organization, he's a special player," said McCoy, picked over Seneca Wallace as Cleveland's No. 2 QB. "He's going to be exciting to watch. I'm just ready for him to be healthy."
Notes: Heckert said Browns starting rookie LB James-Michael Johnson's oblique injury is "nothing serious." However, Jackson indicated his teammate could be sidelined for a while. Johnson's injury is significant because Scott Fujita is suspended for the first three games for his role in the Saints' bounty scandal. Fujita is not allowed to be at the Browns' training complex during his suspension. ... The Browns waived/injured DT Scott Paxson and waived DL Brian Sanford ... The Browns were awarded LB Tank Carder from Buffalo and DT Ishmaa'ily Kitchen from Baltimore. ... TE Benjamin Watson returned to practice after missing most of camp and the four exhibitions with a leg injury. ... Heckert said he didn't realize the Browns have 15 rookies on their 53-man roster. "It's obviously nothing we planned," he said. ... Heckert dismissed a report the Browns were interested in free-agent QB A.J. Feeley. "I haven't talked to A.J. in months," Heckert said. "I have no idea where that came from."
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