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Bottom line on Browns running back situation is this: They need Trent Richardson for the opener

Aug 27, 2012 -- 4:13pm

By Tony Grossi

Extra Points …

A one, and a two: Our obsession with Browns backups today extends to the running back position.

Is Trent Richardson’s top backup Montario Hardesty or is it Brandon Jackson?

After Hardesty fumbled a second game in a row, Jackson emerged Sunday in place of Hardesty with the No. 1 offense at practice. But coach Pat Shurmur later said that Hardesty was just “sore” – a generic ailment that has been epidemic this summer – and that Hardesty had not been demoted.

Actually, someone asked Shurmur if Hardesty had been demoted and he replied, “No, not at all.”

So on Monday, Hardesty, in fact, returned with the No. 1 offense in team drills. Jackson got in a few reps with the starters, too.

The obvious question that Shurmur was not asked is this one: If Hardesty has not been demoted, then why not?

Comparing the backs: Hardesty arrived at camp lighter, determined to stay healthy and force the coaches to give him play time despite the addition of Richardson. Richardson’s arthroscopic procedure on his left knee on Aug. 9 was seen as Hardesty’s golden opportunity to secure the role as lead back in Richardson’s absence.

In that time, Hardesty has carried 24 times and gained 73 yards – a 3.0-yard average that equals his regular-season average last year. GM Tom Heckert said before the season that he hasn’t seen the Hardesty in a Browns uniform that he saw at Tennessee – before Hardesty suffered an ACL tear in his 2010 rookie season.

It seems that Hardesty’s legs churn hard and he doesn’t get a lot of yards. When the Browns advanced to the 2 on their first offensive series Friday night, they ran him on a sweep on first down. He couldn’t get around the edge and was stacked up for a 2-yard loss.

Beaten guard Jason Pinkston tackled a defender on the next play, setting up second-and-goal from the 12. Hardesty then missed a chip-block on a convoluted screen play intended for him, and Brandon Weeden was strip-sacked. The No. 1 offense devolved from there.

Hardesty’s blocking has been questionable. He has those two fumbles. And he has demonstrated again this year that his hands are, well, not dependable in the passing game.

At this point we should remind everyone that Hardesty was drafted in 2010 – a full year before the Browns made the switch the West Coast offensive system that requires the backs to catch the ball.

Jackson, on the other hand, was acquired in free agency after the Browns committed to the West Coast offense. He actually started 13 games for the Packers, who run a version of the WCO, in 2010. By the time the Packers rolled to the Super Bowl championship, Jackson was on the bench – but at least he showed he can catch. He also did not fumble in four years in Green Bay.

“I take a lot of pride in it,” Jackson said. “In high school, not knowing how to hold the ball, I fumbled a lot, so I was taught how to hold it and it’s been going well since. I was holding it (away from his body) like Deion Sanders.”

Jackson’s first season with the Browns was killed by a turf toe injury. He didn’t need surgery, but he missed the whole year. Now he is back and regaining his form. He hasn’t made all-Berea this summer, but he came alive a little in the Philadelphia game with 34 yards on seven attempts. Neither he nor Hardesty have a run longer than 9 yards in the preseason games.

Sizing it up: Of the two backs, Jackson clearly has the skills more suitable to the West Coast offense. But let’s face it, neither back is one that is going to scare any defense.

I would venture to say that Chris Ogbonnaya would challenge either of them for the top backup role, but his hopes were derailed by a high ankle sprain. We’ve had enough experience with that injury to know Ogbonnaya could be out 4-6 weeks, which imperils his roster status.

The bottom line is this: The Browns keep saying that Richardson should be ready for the season opener on Sept. 9. Let’s hope they are right about that.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi


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