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Each week in the preseason on “Eye on Browns”, we take look at a player who made an impact in the fight for roster positioning. Last week, linebacker Mack Wilson stole the spot light with his outstanding performance on defense. This week, it’s all about a former Alliance of American Football standout, halfback D’Ernest Johnson.
While in the AAF, Johnson played for the Orlando Apollos where he was third in the league in rushing yards and the best in the league in average yards per run. He also had more than 200 yards receiving. When the league folded, he and teammate Garrett Gilbert opted to sign with the Cleveland Browns.
While opportunities seemed uncertain, in the wake of their first preseason game, the Browns traded halfback Duke Johnson to the Houston Texans which opened up a competition for the third-down back slot. The favorite seemed to be Dontrell Hilliard, with Johnson as a bubble player.
In game one of the pre-season, Johnson kept the race close buy gaining more rushing yards than Hilliard on less attempts. Hilliard had more receiving yards but also fumbled at the goal-line.
This past week, the Browns faced the Indianapolis Colts. Hilliard didn’t play due to a hamstring injury, giving Johnson the opportunity to gain ground. Johnson rushed for 53 yards and recorded 26 receiving yards and a touchdown.
That leads to the question: what’s next for D’Ernest Johnson?
The Browns have their No. 1 and No. 2 halfbacks set with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt but with the departure of Duke Johnson, it’s opened up a hole for the third-down back position. With the way Johnson has been playing, he may be able to overtake Hilliard.
If Johnson can keep the stride he’s on, then he’ll have a good shot at making the final 53-man roster. However, should the Browns go in another direction, he’ll be signed before he has any chance of making the practice squad. Running backs of his caliber don’t appear everyday, so if someone can’t find a back that does it all, they’ll take him.
Whatever the case, don’t be shocked to see the AAF star running back playing on Sundays in the near the future.
For more on the Cleveland Browns, listen to the Brownstown USA Podcast here on the 3 Point Conversion.