Editor’s note: This is the eighth installment of a 12-part series in which Browns beat writer Nate Ulrich analyzes players who will vie for starting jobs or other important roles during training camp, which opens to the public Thursday in Berea.
BATTLES OF BEREA: RUNNING BACKS
Players to watch: Montario Hardesty (6-foot, 225 pounds, fourth year); Brandon Jackson (5-10, 216, sixth year); Dion Lewis (5-8, 195, third year); Chris Ogbonnaya (6-foot, 225, fourth year); and Trent Richardson (5-9, 230, second year).
2012 stats: Hardesty (13 games played, including one start, 65 carries for 271 yards, 4.2 average, one touchdown, two catches for 16 yards); Jackson (two games played, eight carries for 54 yards, 6.8 average, two catches for 20 yards); Lewis (with Philadelphia Eagles — nine games played, 13 carries, 69 yards, 5.3 average, one touchdown, two catches for 24 yards); Ogbonnaya (15 games played, including one start, eight carries for 30 yards, 3.8 average, 24 catches for 187 yards); Richardson (15 games played with 15 starts, 267 carries for 950 yards, 3.6 average, 11 touchdowns, 51 catches for 367 yards and one touchdown).
Analysis: Richardson is the undisputed starter, but the pecking order of the backups is important because of his medical history. Richardson, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, suffered a strained muscle in his right shin during the second week of organized team activities in May. The injury kept him sidelined for the rest of OTAs and the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp June 4-6, but Richardson insisted that he sat out for precautionary reasons and would be ready to return to action for the start of training camp. Richardson’s latest obstacle came on the heels of an injury-plagued rookie season in which he played all but one regular-season game after undergoing knee surgery Aug. 9 and suffering broken ribs Oct. 14. He missed the season finale with a left high-ankle sprain. With Richardson sidelined during spring practices, Hardesty and Ogbonnaya received plenty of work with the first-team offense. Injuries and dropped passes have haunted Hardesty in the past, though he stayed healthy last year and has caught the ball well this offseason. Hardesty is second on the depth chart, but Ogbonnaya has a legitimate chance to earn more playing time because the new coaching staff likes the thought of using him as a receiving threat in two-back sets. Lewis, whose speed is evident, and Jackson, a former starter for the Green Bay Packers, will vie for a roster spot.
Coming Monday: Free safeties