Originally posted on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 6/6/12
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Montario Hardesty is slowly seeing his name etched into the side of the seemingly mile-long stretch of stone. It’s a slab rife with names of second-round draft selections who merely never seemed to get it together and excel inCleveland. The reasons are boundless, but in this instance more than any, Hardesty’s fate is in his own hands. Or knees. Or calf.

Chaun Thompson was clearly overdrafted. Eric Wright fizzled after a solid rookie campaign. Brian Robiskie was not as NFL-ready as the pundits claimed. David Veikune was David Veikune. And now we have a situation where Hardesty, an all-purpose back for whom the team traded up, could be on the outside looking in, already behind 2011 free agent back Brandon Jackson and potentially fending off Chris Ogbonnaya, the mid-season addition who amassed 334 yards on the ground in 11 games.

The flashes have been there for all to see. Following a rookie season which was essentially over before it started, Hardesty stepped in for an ill Peyton Hillis and led the Browns to a 17-16 win over the Maimi Dolphins. In doing so, he averaged nearly five yards per carry and caught three passes for 20 additional yards. A few weeks later, the former Volunteer added 95 more yards in a 33-carry effort against the Seattle Seawhawks – the result, another win.

But the knees which were laced in red flags on draft day coupled with the calf injury which forced him to miss multiple games in 2011 have turned the one-time hopeful running back of the future into a gigantic red letter X on Tom Heckert’s otherwise solid draft record. Selected only six spots behind the spot of one LeSean McCoy1 , the second-round gem unearthed by Heckert during his days inPhiladelphia who is presently one of the most productive backs in the league, it’s safe to assume that the team thought they would be getting an equally explosive, pass-catching option to bolster the weaponry in Berea. Little did they know, they would be forced to address the same position just two years later and trading up to do so.

Since his arrival, Tom Heckert has added quality talent to a roster that was littered with aging veterans and special teams standouts. For a list of names that Heckert has acquired via the NFL Draft – this team’s obvious means for improvement – all one has to do is scan the starting 22 players; Joe Haden, Phil Taylor, TJ Ward, Jabaal Sheard, Greg Little, and Shaun Lauvao are all starters, and Colt McCoy, the third-round prayer, was the starting quarterback for roughly a season and a half. Even Eric Hagg, last year’s seventh-round pick is vying for a starting gig. The lone name missing from this otherwise flawless slate of top-round drafting: Montario Hardesty.

Hardesty knows he has his work cut out for him. He’s changed his jersey number, has attended optional team activities and looks strong and hungry to show that the team did not make a mistake two springs ago. To his benefit, his prime competition in Jackson was also not the model citizen of health, missing the entire year with a toe injury which was sustained in preseason.

Browns head coach Pat Shurmur feels that there will be enough preseason plays to go around and that all three backs — Hardesty, Jackson and rookie Trent Richardson – will “get their reps,” but how these snaps are divided up remains to be seen. Both Hardsty and Jackson are still walking around Berea without the aid of a walking boot or a set of crutches, so things are definitely looking up.

But just as Wright gave way to Joe Haden, Robiskie was a casualty of the team making Josh Cribbs a wide receiver coupled with the emergence of Jordan Norwood, and Veikune was ousted for a little-known, undrafted pass-rusher named Marcus Benard, the NFL’s window of opportunity remains as tight as ever. Factor in the shelf life of your typical running back and, when it comes to Hardesty, Heckert’s second-round play-action is slowly looking more like a Hail Mary.

In two short years, Montario Hardesty has gone from Jamal Lewis replacement to sunk cost. The Browns have managed to win just nine games in the interim.

(John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)

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  1. whom was right there for the having when the Browns opted to go with Robiskie
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