NFL Rumors: Could Montario Hardesty be odd man out in Cleveland?

By Gil Alcaraz IV

With training camp just around the corner, it appears that Montario Hardesty could be the odd man out in a battle for the Cleveland Browns’ two backup running back spots.

It’s pretty obvious that the Browns’ workhorse in the ground game this season will be Trent Richardson, who Cleveland selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Behind him on the depth chart, though, is where the questions linger.

Among the candidates for the final two running back spots are Hardesty, Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya.

Originally a 2010 second-round pick (No. 59 overall) who was brought in to be the Browns’ running back of the future, Hardesty has been a disappointment thus far. He missed his entire rookie season due to a season-ending left ACL tear. When he finally got healthy in 2011, he still struggled while serving as backup to Peyton Hillis. Throughout last season, Hardesty managed only 266 yards on 88 attempts, finishing with a pitiful three yards per carry.

When the Browns claimed Ogbonnaya off of waivers midway through the season, he immediately began stealing Hardesty’s carries. After two back-to-back outings that totaled 205 yards, he asserted himself as Hillis’ primary relief.

A bit of a journeyman throughout his three NFL seasons, Ogbonnaya is a downhill runner with a nose for finding the open field. He’s limited in the way of explosiveness and breakaway speed, but consistently picks up yards (4.6 per carry in 2011) and is a trustworthy backup plan when injuries set in.

As for Jackson, it appears that Hardesty’s struggles might have opened the door for him to take over the No. 2 spot behind Richardson.

Brought in during the 2011 offseason to serve as a third-down back, Jackson spent the entire year on Injured Reserve after suffering from a severe case of turf toe. Now that he’s healthy and back with the Browns, it appears that he has shown enough during OTAs and offseason workouts to insert his name into the No. 2 talks.

More than anything, Jackson provides versatility for the Browns backfield. During the 2010 campaign while he was with the Green Bay Packers, Jackson hauled in 43 passes and proved that he could handle the pass-blocking duties. Especially with Richardson handling the majority of the load, Jackson could be extremely valuable to the Browns as a change-of-pace back.

Assuming that Richardson can stay on the field and out of trainer’s room, it’s unlikely that the No. 2 running back will have a big role in the Browns’ rushing attack. Still, with the way things are going, Hardesty might be the one getting the ax when the preseason comes to a close.

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