Montario Hardesty’s first carry of Thursday night’s preseason game in Green Bay came on the first play of the game. He fumbled. Three plays later Aaron Rodgers connected with Jordy Nelson for a 20-yard touchdown pass.
Same old Browns?
Not so fast.
Hardesty and the Browns offense — most notably the first team offense — responded with a much-improved performance. The progress was noticeable. The terror
of a 0-16 regular season subsides.
It began with Hardesty. Drafted in the second round in 2010, the Browns are still waiting for him display his wares on the professional level.
We got a sneak peak Thursday night. On the ensuing drive, Hardesty responded with five carries for 26 yards helping the Browns drive into Packers territory
before Cleveland settled for a 53-yard field goal by Phil Dawson. Hardesty finished with 45 yards with one touchdown and one fumble on 12 carries.
Last season was Hardesty’s first full season in the NFL. He suffered a torn ACL in the fourth preseason game his rookie year. Last year, he rushed 88 times
for 266 yards and caught 14 balls for 122 yards. Hardesty also missed six games because of a muscle tear in his calf.
So far, he hasn’t looked like a second-round talent.
This season Hardesty came into camp 10 pounds lighter and wearing the number he sported at the University of Tennessee — No. 20. On Thursday night,
Hardesty ran well between the tackles, despite the smaller frame. He made quick, decisive cuts and finished his runs moving forward.
And here’s the best news of all: Hardesty isn’t the Browns’ top choice at running back. Remember Trent Richardson?
Entering the regular season the Browns are expected to have three capable running backs at their disposal in Richardson, Hardesty and Brandon Jackson. This
is good news for rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. Against the Packers, with the run established, Weeden was able to find some open lanes and receivers in
the passing game. His numbers were much better than the first preseason game, as he finished 12-for-20 passing for 118 yards and no turnovers.
Now, sometimes those receivers dropped a ball (Greg Little) or ran a poor route (Josh Gordon), but that’s a discussion for another day.
The Browns have a stable of running backs. Most expect Trent Richardson to prove he is worthy of the third overall pick of last April’s draft. Brandon
Jackson, who is coming off a turf toe injury, is still worthy of getting carries in this league. The wildcard is Hardesty. If his play Thursday night is
indicative of what we can expect this season, the Browns offense and it’s rookie quarterback will surely benefit.