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Browns running back Montario Hardesty to undergo knee surgery, adding twist to battle for No. 2 spot on depth chart

By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer

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BEREA: Knee trouble continues to haunt Browns running back Montario Hardesty, and his most recent setback could ultimately cost him his spot on the roster.

Hardesty will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery today, coach Rob Chud­zinski said Wednesday during his post-practice news conference. Chud­zinski said he didn’t have a timetable for Hardesty’s return. However, he will be out for at least the first two regular-season games because the minimum recovery time for a knee scope is usually about a month.

“That injury bug is something that you can’t control,” said inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who missed 26 consecutive games from 2009-10 with torn pectoral muscles. “He’s just got to stay positive. … It’s going to help the healing process, and it’s going to help him mentally get through it. And what I would tell him is to keep good people around him, just so he stays motivated.”

The Browns will host the Detroit Lions at 7:30 tonight at FirstEnergy Stadium in their second of four exhibition games. They’ll need the rest of the preseason to determine which running back can fill the No. 2 spot on the depth chart previously held by Hardesty. Dion Lewis, Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya are the candidates to serve as the primary backup to starter Trent Richardson, who will face the Lions after sitting out the exhibition opener last week because of a bothersome right shin. Chud­zinski said Richardson will play “a couple series” tonight.

Meanwhile, the Browns can keep Hardesty on the active roster, waive him, place him on injured reserve for the rest of the year or put him on IR and designate him to return after eight weeks of the regular season.

The 6-foot, 225-pound Hardesty missed most of training camp with an injured hamstring tendon and left practice Monday with a dislocated right thumb before returning Tuesday. But it’s his history of knee problems that forced him to miss practice Wednesday and called for another surgery.

“His knee’s been nagging him for a little bit,” Chudzinski said. “This is unrelated to the hamstring tendon that he had injured that kept him out earlier in camp.”

Chudzinski said he didn’t know which knee Hardesty will have scoped, but it’s almost irrelevant because he has had a torn anterior ligament repaired in each one. Hardesty suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during the 2010 preseason finale, wiping out his entire rookie season with the Browns. As a freshman at the University of Tennessee in 2005, he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee.

“You just have to keep coming back and keep fighting,” Chudzinski said. ... “He’ll make it back.”

Even before Chudzinski revealed the news, Hardesty’s chances of securing a roster spot were tenuous. Of 17 training camp practices, he missed all or part of 11 with the hamstring and thumb injuries. The latest setback will further hurt his bid for a job.

“We’ll just have to see what time [he misses] and when he gets back, and then balance that with the other guys and how they’re doing and how they do in the next couple weeks,” Chudzinski said.

Hardesty, a second-round draft pick, served as Richardson’s main backup last season. He had 65 carries for 271 yards (4.2 average) and a touchdown to go along with two catches for 16 yards in 13 games.

“Hopefully he’ll be able to bounce back quick,” Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said. “He’s had a few knee surgeries, so I think he knows what the rehab process is. And obviously we want to get him out there quick because when he was out there for us last year, he did a great job.”

In Hardesty’s absence, the Browns must find out who can ascend to the role of No. 2 running back.

The 5-8, 195-pound Lewis is listed third on the depth chart and has been one of the most pleasant surprises during camp. He caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Weeden last week in the preseason opener. In April, the Browns traded backup linebacker Emmanuel Acho to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Lewis.

“He’s shown that he can make people miss in the open field,” Browns running backs coach John Settle said during an interview Sunday. “But he still has things to work on daily, and he’s aware of those things. But I do like the addition of Dion to the group. I think he brings an added dimension that will put stress on defenses.

“He may be the second guy. There may be other weeks where he’s the third guy. I think the one main thing is that if Trent Richardson stays healthy, he’s the first guy. That’s the one thing we know for sure. But I think based upon how games go, how the plays are called, there could be some guys in and out. We like to play two or three guys and keep guys fresh.”

Jackson, 5-10 and 215 pounds, has shown some promise after receiving little playing time the past two seasons with the Browns. The new regime re-signed him in May.

“He still shows explosiveness, he runs behind his pads, he’s physical, he runs through arm tackles and there’s something every day that he picks out that he can work on at practice,” Settle said. “It hasn’t gotten old to him. He knows he doesn’t know it all. [Even though] he’s a seven-year vet, he doesn’t feel that he deserves anything. He knows that he has to work for it daily. He comes out and goes to work like a professional, and I like his approach. He’s a guy that brings a lot to the table because of the way he does attack defenses, runs downhill.”

As for the 6-foot, 225-pound Ogbonnaya, the Browns are experimenting with him. He is listed as the team’s top fullback, though he has played tailback throughout his NFL career.

“He’s bought in 100 percent to the idea of playing both fullback and halfback,” Settle said. “He’s getting better day-by-day. If he continues to improve, that’s all you can ask. … When you have a willing participant and a guy has talent and ability, then you’ve got a guy who has an opportunity to do some good things.”

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.


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