Now that the Browns are set to move forward with Colt McCoy as their No. 2 quarterback, another important competition between backups will be at the forefront this week.
Who will be rookie running back Trent Richardson’s primary backup when the Browns open the regular season against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles at 1 p.m. Sunday?
Listed third on the depth chart, Brandon Jackson has seemingly rallied in the past couple of weeks and become a serious threat to No. 2 running back Montario Hardesty. One of them could play a prominent role in Week 1, especially if the Browns decide to sit Richardson in the opener because of the arthroscopic surgery he had on his left knee Aug. 9.
“Montario’s a good running back,” Jackson said. “Coming Week 1, if Trent’s ready, then he’s going. We know that he’s gonna take the No. 1 position. … You never know, so you just gotta make the best of your opportunities and wait for the decision to be made.”
Richardson rode a stationary bike on the practice field Saturday as part of his rehabilitation from the procedure he underwent to have a piece of loose cartilage removed. Coach Pat Shurmur said Richardson, the third overall pick in this year’s draft, is “very close” to practicing for the first time since Aug. 6, and Shurmur remains “very optimistic” he will be able to play in Week 1. The Browns were off Sunday and will resume practice today.
Of course, Richardson’s return is not guaranteed to be smooth because no one knows exactly how his left knee will respond after two operations in six months. He also had a torn meniscus repaired Feb. 3.
In other words, the Browns need a reliable safety valve. When asked Saturday whether Hardesty is still the No. 2 running back, Shurmur hedged his answer.
“I think at this point, yes, unless something changes,” he said. “I would say that’s fair to say.”
Hardesty had a strong start to training camp, but he fumbled in consecutive preseason games against the Green Bay Packers and the Eagles. He finished the preseason with 30 carries for 97 yards (3.2 average) and a touchdown. In the preseason finale Thursday night against the Chicago Bears, he had six carries for 24 yards (4.0 average).
“I think I came and played well,” Hardesty said when asked about competing for the main backup spot. “I think I put my best foot forward, and we’re going to just go from there. I’m not into this and that. I just try to come out here and work every day and do the best I can do.”
Jackson compiled 34 carries for 135 yards (4.0 average) and a touchdown, plus four catches for 26 yards in four exhibition games. He rushed seven times for 48 yards (6.9 average) against the Bears. He did not fumble all preseason, and he has yet to lose a fumble in his NFL career.
“I feel very confident that I showed the decision makers what I can do and how I can do it, just adding a spark, moving the chains, playing special teams,” Jackson said. “We’re just gonna see how it works out. I’m not antsy. I’m not nervous. I’m gonna continue every day like I used to. I’m gonna go home, play with my kids, put them to bed, wake up and take them to school. Life goes on. But I feel very strong about the opportunities that I had, and we’ll see how it plays out.”
Hardesty and Jackson are hoping to bounce back after battling injuries last season.
Hardesty did not play in six games last year because he tore a muscle in his right calf. He’s been wearing a sleeve on his lower right leg as of late. He sat out team drills during practice Aug. 26, but insisted he’s fine and his calf isn’t bothering him.
Jackson, meanwhile, is back after tearing ligaments in his big toe during the 2011 preseason. He missed the entire regular season after signing with the Browns last summer as an unrestricted free agent coming off a Super Bowl victory with the Green Bay Packers.
“With that year off, it put a lot of hunger, a lot of confidence, a lot of patience in me to come back and to compete on a high level consistently, and I felt like I did that,” Jackson said. “ … That gave me time to grow as a man, to grow as a father, as a husband, as a Christian and as an athlete. There were a lot of things that went on, not negative, but it was a journey and it showed me the way. And I feel like I’m a better man because of the situation that happened last year.”
But Jackson isn’t satisfied. With the opener around the corner, he’s aiming to ascend the depth chart.
“I want to continue to show the team and the coaches that I can run hard,” he said.