By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Hours before Owen Marecic’s career with the Browns ended, he acknowledged that Chris Ogbonnaya’s conversion from tailback to fullback created an uncertain future for him in Cleveland.
“I think the best guy is going to play, and Obi’s been doing a great job,” said Marecic, who entered last season as the team’s primary fullback. “So I just make the most of my opportunity, and it’s up to the coaches and the front office to make any final decisions regarding the roster.”
On Tuesday evening, the team announced its final decisions regarding Marecic and several other players. The Browns waived Marecic and placed running back Montario Hardesty on season-ending injured reserve, highlighting a slew of roster moves made as all NFL teams were required to trim their rosters to 75 players by 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Rosters must be cut to 53 players by 6 p.m. Saturday, so several players will be auditioning for jobs Thursday night when the Browns visit the Chicago Bears in the preseason finale. The Browns also were awarded two players off waivers Tuesday — punter Colton Schmidt from the San Francisco 49ers and outside linebacker Paul Hazel from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Schmidt, an undrafted rookie from the University of California-Davis, was waived Monday after punting four times this preseason for 201 yards (50.3 gross average, 47.0 net average), including two that were downed inside the 20-yard line. Schmidt will compete with Spencer Lanning, who has punted 15 times for 693 yards (46.2 gross average, 39.3 net average), including five that were downed inside the 20. The 6-5, 227-pound Hazel, an undrafted rookie from Western Michigan University, was waived Sunday after compiling four tackles this preseason.
The Browns waived offensive tackle Ryan Miller, outside linebacker Kendrick Adams, offensive tackle Dominic Alford, undrafted rookie wide receiver Dominique Croom, nose tackle Nicolas Jean-Baptiste and undrafted rookie tight end Travis Tannahill. Undrafted rookie offensive lineman Chris Faulk was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list, meaning he is out for the season.
“It’s difficult,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said of roster cuts. “I recognize that a lot of these guys, this is their dream to play. I take that seriously, sitting down with them and talking through things. The crazy thing about this business is that you just never know. For some of them, it is the last time they play. For some of them, they will play somewhere else. For some of them, we may pick them up later on down the road. You just never know.”
Marecic and Hardesty were draft picks of former Browns General Manager Tom Heckert. Marecic’s exit was foreshadowed by poor performances last season and limited opportunities this year. Hardesty is in the final year of his rookie contract, so the latest setback in his injury-plagued career could signal the end for him with the Browns, as well.
A fourth-round choice in 2011 from Stanford University, the 6-foot, 245-pound Marecic was benched last season by the previous coaching staff after he dropped all four passes thrown his way. And when Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner began installing their system in the spring, they moved the 6-foot, 225-pound Ogbonnaya to fullback because they like his versatility and the threat he presents as a receiver out of the backfield.
Ogbonnaya, who previously played tailback, has been listed atop the depth chart throughout this preseason. Marecic started six of the 24 games in which he appeared the past two seasons.
Heckert traded up into the second round of the 2010 draft to select Hardesty despite his medical history. Hardesty suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in 2005 as a freshman at the University of Tennessee before a torn ACL in his left knee wiped out his entire rookie season with the Browns.
Hardesty’s left knee bothered him this summer in training camp, so he underwent arthroscopic surgery Aug. 15. Hindered by other leg injuries, Hardesty has played in only 23 games since the Browns drafted him. Last season, he appeared in 13 games, tallying 65 carries for 271 yards (4.2 average) and a touchdown.
Hardesty was listed second on the depth chart, and fellow running back Dion Lewis was No. 3 until he was lost for the season Aug. 15 with a fractured fibula he suffered in a preseason win over the Detroit Lions. So for now, veteran Brandon Jackson is listed as starter Trent Richardson’s primary backup, but the Browns will likely need to bring in reinforcements. Undrafted rookies Miguel Maysonet and Jamaine Cook round out the stable of running backs.
“Brandon is a reliable guy,” Chudzinski said. “I have no issues with Brandon. Obviously Trent will be in there, and he will be the guy that we are counting on in a lot of different ways. We have to do a good job of keeping him fresh throughout the course of the season, not just one game, but through the course of the season. That will bring opportunities for other guys.”
The 6-7, 320-pound Miller is a notable cut, too. Heckert drafted him in the fifth round out of the University of Colorado in 2012. As a rookie, Miller appeared in eight games with no starts. Miller suffered a frightening concussion July 27 during practice. Medical personnel immobilized him, carted him off the field and transported him by ambulance to a hospital. He has not practiced since.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.