BEREA, Ohio -- As days turned to weeks, Trent Richardson's frustration grew -- almost to anger.
Unable to play in the preseason or even practice with the Browns following knee surgery, Cleveland's prized rookie running back was forced to work out on his own. Richardson's dream of playing in the NFL was put on hold, and there wasn't anything he could do but look at it as another obstacle to overcome.
"It's been a fight," he said.
Starting with a Thud
Since re-entering the league in 1999, Cleveland has been terrible in season openers. The Browns have lost 7 straight in Week 1 and are just 1-12 in season openers since 1999.
Worst record in openers since '99
Browns 1-12<<< Raiders 4-9 Chiefs 4-9 >>>Lost 7 straight season openers
-- ESPN Stats & Information
He's ready for his next one.
Richardson practiced Wednesday for the second time since undergoing his second knee operation this year Aug. 9, and it appears the third overall pick in April's draft will make his delayed debut Sunday when the Browns open the regular season at home against the Philadelphia Eagles.
After missing all four preseason games, Richardson is eager to make an impact on his new team, city and league.
"I can't stand watching preseason games without being out there," he said after practice. "It's been a long time since I've touched a football. I've got to make sure I'm part of this team. I've got to get on that field and contribute to this team. Just watching, I was very antsy. I had to take that time and realize this might be the best thing for my career -- to get my leg right."
Richardson had some loose cartilage removed from his left knee last month by famed sports orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, who also performed an arthroscopic procedure in early February on Richardson's knee, shortly after he helped Alabama beat LSU in the BCS national title game.
Richardson had not experienced any problems during the first 10 days of training camp, but suddenly showed up riding a stationary bike at an Aug. 7 practice. The Browns initially downplayed Richardson's injury, but the sight of the former Alabama star on the sideline was unnerving to Cleveland fans who have grown accustomed expecting the worst.
There had been no trauma to his knee, but Richardson knew something was wrong.
"I was just kind of feeling like a nick," said Richardson, speaking for the first time since the operation. "I was still running full speed. I could've played the first preseason game, but coach (Pat Shurmur) was like we're gonna check it out, then found out there was something wrong."
An MRI revealed some minor damage, and the 22-year-old Richardson underwent his fourth known surgery. He had procedures done on both ankles in high school.
Richardson said the latest scope to his knee was not related to the first one, and insisted he's not concerned about lingering issues.
"There's nothing to worry me at all," Richardson said. "I'm very confident in my knee. I try to be 110 percent in whatever I do. Coach is going to put me in the right situation. Our trainers and medical staff, they're doing everything they can to have me at 120 percent, not 110 percent. I can tell a big difference now. It's not going to give me any problems down the line.
"I've got fresh legs. I'm ready to go."
The Browns are ready for him.
Cleveland ranked 28th in rushing last season and scored a league-low four touchdowns on the ground. The 5-foot-8, 230-pound Richardson, with the physique of a bodybuilder and speed of a track star, will bolster a Browns offense that scored just 218 points last season.
"Obviously he's a huge addition," rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden said. "Being able to turn and hand him the ball is one of the best plays we have in our playbook. You have to respect him. Guys in the box have to account for him. He's obviously an extremely gifted runner. I'm excited to see him pass block, I'm excited to see him catch balls out of the backfield, do all those different things.
"He's a guy I'm excited to have back in this lineup, and I know he's champing at the bit to start playing again."
Richardson wasn't on the field when the Eagles thrashed the Browns 27-10 in an Aug. 24 preseason game. However, Philadelphia coach Andy Reid knows enough about him to be expecting a handful.
"He's a heck of a football player, so that's what we're expecting," Richardson said. "You talk about a guy that was a great college player. He's built for the NFL game, so we know with him you've got size and speed, toughness, quickness, and you better wrap him up and make sure that you tackle well with him."
Richardson hasn't had any real contact since early camp. He'll get his first taste of what to expect against the Eagles on Thursday, when the Browns will be in full pads to work on short-yardage situations.
"I'm very anxious to take a pop and give one," he said. "If you're a running back you don't want to get hit too many times. You want to give that first hit. I can't wait."
On Sunday, the long wait for his debut will be over.
It's a day he's visualized countless times, and if Richardson could script his dream day, there would be one perfect ending.
"The Browns win," he said. "We come out victorious. Everybody's injury free, and we come out victorious."
NotesFacing a possible four-game drug suspension, Browns CB Joe Haden practiced again. It seems he'll be eligible to play Sunday, but there are no guarantees. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an email that the league tries to take "competitive issues into account" but that each case is unique. Haden is awaiting a decision on his suspension for reportedly taking Adderall. The league will not announce the suspension if Haden wins the appeal. ... Starting rookie LB James-Michael Johnson (oblique) did not practice. Johnson was going to start for Scott Fujita, serving his three-game suspension for the Saints' scandal. If Johnson is out, rookie L.J. Fort will likely start on the strong side. ... TE Alex Smith was chosen as honorary captain for the opener by captains Joe Thomas, D'Qwell Jackson and Phil Dawson.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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