When STC Bubba Ventrone saw RB Jerome Ford catch a pass and sprint down the field for 69 yards on Monday night against the Steelers, his mind flashed back to Ford’s high school highlight film. He turned to another member of the Browns staff and said, “I saw that on the highlight film.” Ventrone had shown Ford’s high school highlight film at the end of his Friday special team’s meeting before the season opener.
“It’s probably the best highlight film I’ve seen in the last six years,” Ventrone said at the time.
G Joel Bitonio knew Ford was fast. He didn’t realize how Ford could break away like he did against the Steelers for the 69-yard gain in a game situation.
“He was moving, he was flying and it was impressive to see,” Bitonio said of Ford. “I knew speed was one of his high attributes, but no, it was cool to see him break away and hopefully we get a few more of those.”
In his first two seasons with the Browns, Ford has been a part of special teams as the Browns main kick returner. Now, his role is changing.
Week 2 against the Steelers was the first glimpse. Following the season-ending injury to RB Nick Chubb in Week 2, Ford stepped in and rushed for 106 yards on 16 carries, as well as 25 receiving yards and a touchdown on three receptions.
The Browns run game will look different without Chubb. They can use a combination of guys in the backfield like Ford, Pierre Strong Jr., Elijah Moore and their newest signing of Kareem Hunt. Head coach Kevin Stefanski named Ford as their new starting running back.
With the addition of Hunt to the running back room, as well as Ford’s growth, QB Deshaun Watson is optimistic in their overall run game.
“I think Jerome is very confident,” Watson said. “I think he’s very smart. He’s picked up the system and the protection wise, especially on third down very well, and he knows exactly what we want for that runner mat position. And then bringing back Kareem is going to be helpful. He was there last year with him. But Jerome has been a guy that he’s been watching Nick from, not from a distance, but right behind him. I mean everything Nick do, he tries to simulate and do it in his own way and I think that’s been very, very helpful for him. And he’s going to be a big part for this offense.”
Stefanski noted how Ford is a diligent worker. He reflected on how well Ford handled the spring voluntary offseason programs both mentally and physically. Stefanski watched in that timeframe how Ford jumped into his role of being a protector and understanding the different elements that go into protection. Ford also catches the ball well.
And Stefanski knows how much Ford has waited patiently for this opportunity.
“Jerome’s an example of a guy who always been ready,” Stefanski said.
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OC Alex Van Pelt knows that there are big shoes to fill at running back. Yet, he’s confident Ford can help fill those shoes. Van Pelt knows that Ford has the ability to break away, has good vision and strong footwork. The work that Ford did as a kick returner last year carried over to the start of this season and in the run game, and Van Pelt is positive that Ford will continue to excel in his new role.
Ventrone echoed those same traits, adding that Ford is a fast and aggressive runner, has good contact balance and is strong.
Knowing that his teammates and the coaching staff are confident in Ford as the feature back helps him feel assured in himself as well.
“It lets me know that I’m doing the right things and that everything I do is being evaluated,” Ford said.
He’s also turned to Chubb for advice throughout this week, and said Chubb told him to reach out if he needed anything. As Ford has prepared for his first start at running back against the Titans on Sept. 24, while the work has been the same, Ford described his week of practice as “fun.” Now he’ll get a chance to put that work to the test as their starting running back.
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