Since the day John DeFilippo was hired as the Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator, fans and media members alike have wondered what his offensive philosophy would be. After weeks of waiting, DeFilippo finally provided a little bit of insight to Kevin Jones of ClevelandBrowns.com on Tuesday.
In an exclusive discussion with the Browns Staff Writer, the offensive coordinator discussed various topics and aspects of what the team’s offense will look like in year one. Full of good quotes and insight from Flip, you should take a look at the full article on the team’s website.
When reading the article there was a particular section that popped out, where the headline read “Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West will be asked to be pass-catchers.” In that section Jones wrote, “DeFilippo said that Crowell and West were thrown into the fire early in their careers and, at times, “flourished.” But the offensive coordinator thinks they have untapped talents that can help the Browns move the football with more consistency.”
DeFilippo would go on to say, “Let’s see if they can catch the ball, run a slant, run a hitch, run a go, run a comeback. I want to see if those guys can do those things because that’s going to be a big part of the offense that I want to incorporate here.”
If you are feeling like you just read something along these lines on Cleveland Sports Zone this week, it is because you have. In an article discussing a couple of free agent options (Frank Gore and Shane Vereen), the lack of utilization of Crowell and West in the pass game was one of the main reasons why I suggested the team should look into a veteran pass-catcher in free agency.
Now with DeFilippo stressing that importance—though in direct relation to Crowell and West—it is important to note that an even more prolific pass-catching running back has hit the open market. On Wednesday, the New Orleans Saints decided to part ways with Pierre Thomas.
Undrafted out of Illinois in the 2007 NFL Draft, Thomas has made quite the living for himself in the Saints pass-happy offensive system. In eight years with the team, Thomas has caught 327 passes for 2,608 yards and 12 touchdowns. As a running back, he also contributed 818 carries for 3,745 yards and 28 touchdowns. His ability as a rusher—especially early in his career (2008 and 2009 seasons) should not go unnoticed here either, as he still has plenty left in the tank to contribute on the ground.
But where Thomas has made his living—and why the Browns should be contacting his agent immediately if they haven’t already—is as a receiver out of the backfield. The season that is a perfect example of just how good he can be was the 2013 season, where he caught 77 passes for 513 yards and three touchdowns on 84 targets. In that season, Thomas ended up being No. 4 in targets on the team, behind the likes of Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Darren Sproles.
Despite being in what many would consider an extremely crowded backfield, Thomas has always found a way to make himself valuable to Drew Brees and the Saints offense. Take last year for example. Even with Mark Ingram getting 226 carries and Khiry Robinson receiving another 76, Thomas was able to make the most of his 45 carries for 222 yards (4.9 yards per carry). Most would think being the No. 3 running back would mean limited touches, but that just wasn’t the case—as Thomas carved out an opportunity for another 45 receptions for 378 yards in the passing game as well.
Essentially the third running back option and the fifth receiving option, Thomas was able to rack up 90 touches over the course of the season—which ended up being No. 2 on the team behind Ingram’s 226 carries. For those who focus in on the impact Graham had on the offense, he finished with 85 receptions on the season, thus meaning he touched the ball five less times than Thomas.
With the Saints deciding to move on from the now 30-year old back, DeFilippo should be in general manager Ray Farmer’s ear immediately about bringing him in.
Thomas’ ability to impact two areas of the offensive game year in and year out without being a focal point in the offense should easily show the importance of having a player like him on your roster. Add in the fact that he has been a veteran presence in a number of playoff runs, including becoming a champion in Super Bowl XLIV, and this would be a home run signing for the Browns prior to the beginning of free agency next week.