Editor’s note: This is the first part of a weeklong series about Browns players who are expected to vie for starting jobs or other important roles during training camp, which opens to the public Saturday in Berea.
BATTLES OF BEREA: RUNNING BACKS
By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
Players to watch: Trent Richardson (5-foot-9, 230 pounds, rookie); Montario Hardesty (6-0, 225 pounds, third year); Brandon Jackson (5-10, 216 pounds, sixth year); and Chris Ogbonnaya (6-0, 225 pounds, third year).
2011 stats: Richardson (at Alabama), 283 carries for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns, plus 29 catches for 338 yards and three touchdowns; Hardesty, 88 carries, 266 yards, 14 catches, 122 yards; Jackson, spent the entire season on injured reserve; and Ogbonnaya, 73 carries, 334 yards, one touchdown, 23 catches, 165 yards.
Analysis: Richardson, the third overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, is a lock to start and carry a significant load as the feature back in coach Pat Shurmur’s version of the West Coast offense. The only real competition at this position will determine who becomes Richardson’s primary backup. The Browns will probably favor whoever proves to be the best receiving threat and pass protector, especially on third down. Contributions on special teams might be a deciding factor, too. Shurmur said Hardesty and Jackson would both play this year, but which one will receive a more prominent role? The health of each could help answer the question. Hardesty did not play in six games last season as he dealt with a torn muscle in his right calf. He missed the previous season with his second torn ACL (he suffered the first one in college). Jackson missed the entire 2011 regular season after tearing ligaments in his big toe during the preseason. If Hardesty or Jackson encounter setbacks as they try to bounce back, the door will open for Ogbonnaya, who rushed for 90 and 115 yards in consecutive games last season.
Ulrich’s take: Jackson is the epitome of reliable when healthy, so don’t be surprised if he emerges as the team’s main backup. Before the Browns signed Jackson to a two-year, $4.5 million deal last summer, he didn’t lose a fumble or commit a penalty in four seasons with the Green Bay Packers. On the other hand, Hardesty struggled to catch the ball last year. The Browns hope Hardesty can stay healthy and live up to the expectations placed upon him as a second-round draft pick, but his medical history is an obvious concern. The Browns kept only three running backs when they cut their roster to 53 players last year. Ogbonnaya will probably be the odd man out, unless someone else gets hurt.
Coming Monday: Defensive tackles.