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Trent Richardson can help restore order for Browns

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When the Cleveland Browns drafted Trent Richardson, they did so with an eye toward the past and the future.

Since Cleveland returned to the NFL from its hiatus in 1999, the absence of a franchise quarterback has doomed the Browns. The persistent inability to pound the ball against opponents hasn't helped.

The Browns have chewed up 16 starting quarterbacks in 13 seasons. Most were a disaster, but even the best among them were doomed by a weak-sister running game. The Browns have finished an average of 26th in the NFL in rushing since 1999. That's led to averaging 27th both in total yards and points scored during this dark stretch.

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Assuming Richardson's knee heals up, Brandon Weeden has something everyone from Tim Couch to Colt McCoy lacked: A potentially elite back who can keep defenses honest and take the heat off a developing signal-caller.

The roots of Cleveland's West Coast offense conjure images of a precision passing game, but Browns president Mike Holmgren knows that's not the entire story.

In Holmgren's first two trips to the Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers in 1996 and 1997, he relied on running backs Edgar Bennett and Dorsey Levens to balance out Brett Favre and the pass. Holmgren returned to the Super Bowl in 2005 with the Seattle Seahawks, but they wouldn't have come close without Shaun Alexander's outrageous 1,880 yards and 27 touchdowns on the ground.

These are the roots behind Cleveland trading up to secure Richardson with the third-overall pick in April's draft.

The Browns are counting on the former Alabama star to give the team some long-lost identity. No player has led the team in rushing more than two seasons in a row since bulldozer Kevin Mack did it between 1990 and 1992. The in-between has been a horror show.

The hope in Cleveland is that Richardson -- who will be featured in our upcoming video series, "Everything to Prove," which debuts Aug. 15 -- will return with a steel-strong knee and a fire in the belly to help alter the balance of the AFC North.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @marcsesslernfl.

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