Regardless of who is playing quarterback for the Cleveland Browns in 2013, the team figures to utilize a run-heavy attack on offense. Even though the Browns managed to find a decent new receiving target in Josh Gordon, this team will be a ground-based offense when push comes to shove this season. That means there will be plenty of carries to go around, and given Trent Richardson’s troublesome injury history, Montario Hardesty could see some serious work.
Consistency hasn’t been the strong suit of Hardesty during his NFL career as his 2012 campaign exhibited. There were four games where he saw four or more carries and averaged 4.0 yards or better per carry last season, but there were also some games where he was extremely ineffective like the season finale at the Pittsburgh Steelers where he carried the rock 14 times for just 37 yards (2.6 YPC). Those types of numbers won’t get it done on a weekly basis, and the Browns need Hardesty to really step up his game in the coming season.
Believe it or not, Hardesty actually had a better YPC than Richardson last season as his 65 carries for 271 yards averaged out to 4.2 YPC. Richardson, on the other hand, had 267 totes for 950 yards or just 3.6 YPC. Obviously Richardson is more of three-down back with his 51 catches in 2012 compared to just two grabs for Hardesty. That will likely limit Hardesty to goal line and short yardage carries with his 6’0” 225lbs. frame which brings a bruising style to the line of scrimmage.
It’s really only Richardson and Hardesty in the mix for carries with Cleveland unless a rash of injuries again plagues the team’s backfield. Chris Ogbonnaya saw some carries a year ago, and the team recently traded for Dion Lewis from the Philadelphia Eagles in April. Lewis could factor in as a rare change of pace back due to his game-breaking speed and Ogbonnaya may see a handful of carries, but neither one will take playing time away from the top two on the depth chart.
Whether the Browns start Brandon Weeden or Jason Campbell under center is really irrelevant to the success of the running game. Cleveland must continue to feed their running backs the football which means Hardesty will be called upon regularly to spell Richardson when he needs a rest. It may not be a glamorous role as a backup ball carrier in Cleveland, but Hardesty will again make the most of his opportunities in 2013.