The Browns have claimed running back and kick returner Fozzy Whittaker off waivers from the San Diego Chargers and released wide receiver Josh Cooper, the team announced today.

The Browns also waived running back Montario Hardesty, who was on injured reserve after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery this past summer. The move was reported Sunday and became official today.

Whittaker appeared in three games with the Chargers this season before they waived him Saturday. He returned six kickoffs for 156 yards (26.0 average). His longest return was 42 yards, and he fumbled once.

The 5-foot-10, 202-pound Whittaker spent the final two weeks of this past season on the practice squad of the Arizona Cardinals. He entered the NFL last year as an undrafted rookie from the University of Texas.

The Browns are thin at kick returner and have been using wide receiver Greg Little to handle those duties the past two games. Little has returned three kickoffs for 86 yards (28.7 average). His longest return was 30 yards.

Cooper played at Oklahoma State University with Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden and signed with the team last year as an undrafted rookie. He appeared in six games last season and caught eight passes for 106 yards. Cooper appeared in one game this season, but he did not accumulate any statistics.

When the Browns placed Hardesty on IR Aug. 27 after he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, it foreshadowed the end of his career with the organization.

Former Browns General Manager Tom 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 past summer in training camp, so he underwent arthroscopic surgery Aug. 15. Hindered by other leg injuries, Hardesty played in only 23 games, including five starts, since the Browns drafted him. He compiled 153 carries for 537 yards (3.5 average) and one touchdown to go along with 16 catches for 138 yards.

Practice notes

Three Browns players were not at practice today during the 30-minute portion open to the media: starting outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard (sprained left knee), backup defensive end Billy Winn (strained quadriceps) and Cooper.

Weeden practiced for the first time since spraining his right thumb Sept. 15 against the Baltimore Ravens. Still, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski announced today that quarterback Brian Hoyer will start Thursday night against the Buffalo Bills.

Backup outside linebacker Quentin Groves was out of the walking boot he had been wearing since suffering a high-ankle sprain Sept. 15 against the Ravens. He rode a stationary bike at the beginning of practice.