BEREA, Ohio -- Rookie fullback Ray Agnew nervously answered his phone about noon Saturday because he had a feeling Browns running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery was calling to deliver some news.
Agnew would either make the 53-man roster or be cut. He didn't know what to expect until Montgomery told him his dream had come true.
"I had a smile all over my face," Agnew said. "I tried not to shed a tear. I was just happy, excited and ready to go."
Agnew defied the odds.
He didn't receive a football scholarship coming out of De Smet Jesuit High School in St. Louis, so he walked on at Southern Illinois University and earned one. After blocking for younger brother Malcolm, a tailback for the Salukis, Agnew wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine or picked in May's NFL Draft. But he signed with the Browns on May 12 and won a job this summer in training camp.
"I'm confident in Agnew," starting running back Ben Tate said. "You want a guy that's going to go up and hit somebody. That's what he's going to do. I don't care if he's hitting the wrong guy as long as he's hitting somebody from the other team and laying him out. That's what you want in a fullback that's hungry to hit someone. (It's) his first year in the league, so he's new to this. There's going to be a little adjustment for him, but I'm very confident in him."
Pedigree helped Agnew prevail. His father, Ray, played 11 seasons in the NFL as a defensive lineman for the New England Patriots, New York Giants and St. Louis Rams. He won a Super Bowl with the Rams during the 1999 season.
The younger Agnew will never forget his dad bringing him into the locker room at the Georgia Dome to celebrate the Rams' win over the Tennessee Titans for the championship.
"I've been around the game my whole life with my dad playing for so long and being around the teams he was on, being in the locker room," Agnew said. "Watching my dad, others like Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, they showed me how to carry yourself in an NFL setting."
The 5-foot-10, 247-pound Agnew entered camp in late July behind MarQueis Gray on the depth chart. Gray primarily played tight end last season, but the new coaching staff experimented with him this offseason as a hybrid fullback.
As the preseason unfolded, it became apparent new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan favored Agnew, a traditional fullback. The Browns cut Gray on Saturday.
"The hybrid thing was attractive, but at the end of the day, we just felt that Agnew suited us better at this point," Pettine said. ... "The fullback in this scheme is more of a searchlight than a straight downhill thumper, which he can do, which is good because that kind of helps you also when you are running those types of schemes whether it's short yardage or goal line where things are a little bit more direct.
"He's showed the ability to carry the football over the course of training camp. He was solid running the ball. The few chances he got, he could catch it in the flat. Just the feel for the zone scheme kind of searching out his guy -- he's showed a pretty good knack for it."
Pettine has professed the importance of establishing a reliable rushing attack, and Shanahan is expected to lean on it. The Browns tied for 27th in the NFL in rushing (86.4 yards per game) last season under the guidance of the previous coaching staff. The new crew is hell-bent to use a drastically different approach.
"Last year, we probably ran the ball once a game," Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron said sarcastically. "I think this year is going to be different, so hopefully we'll have some more balance. I think we will. I think anytime you have balance, it helps. It keeps a defense on its toes."
Washington's Darrel Young played a crucial role the past few seasons as a traditional fullback in Shanahan's system, so Agnew should receive ample opportunities to serve as a lead blocker. He's excited about the prospect because smashing defenders is his favorite part of playing the position.
"There's not a lot of people who can honestly say they enjoy playing fullback," Agnew said. "You're hitting your head against a brick wall pretty much every day. But I really love it because I get to be physical, and I love playing the game of football. Every time I step out here I get a tingling feeling in my stomach because I love the game so much."
His passion and intensity have been noted by teammates.
"He did a great job in camp," All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas said. "He came right from the first day and put his head down and ran in there and hit linebackers the way he's supposed to and never shied away from contact. He seems to be an eager learner, and I think he's done a great job. He won the job outright and has never looked back."
But Agnew won't forget what he overcame to reach this point.
"Even though I'm on the squad, I still have a chip on my shoulder," he said. "Those things I talk about when being underrated -- not getting any scholarships out of high school -- those are things I'm always going to take with me when I step on the field."
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