While many, including the Browns organization, call Richardson the best back to enter the draft since Adrian Peterson, it seems he won’t be used in a workhorse-type role next season as a rookie.
Dan Pompei of the National Football Post believes the Browns will try to utilize both Richardson and Hardesty to wear down defenses:
Richardson’s presence does not mean the team is giving up on injury-prone Montario Hardesty, however. The hope is that Hardesty can stay on the field and give the Browns a pair of pounders.
Hardesty was selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft out of Tennessee, where he rushed for 2,391 yards and 26 touchdowns over the course of five years with the Vols.
He was expected to be the spell back to Peyton Hillis but missed the entirety of the 2010 NFL season after suffering a torn ACL in a preseason game.
Hardesty returned to the Browns in 2011 but battled injuries throughout the course of the season. He ended the year with 88 carries for 266 yards. The most action Hardesty saw in a single game came in Week 7 against the Seattle Seahawks when he rushed 33 times for 95 yards and a mediocre 2.9 average.
Browns head coach Pat Shurmur said he expects Hardesty to develop significantly this offseason:
And I want to see a Montario Hardesty that's healthy and I think he's hopefully finally getting back. This will be one of the first offseasons he hasn't been dealing with an injury, so that will really help him develop.
The Browns are certainly giving Hardesty his shot. He rotated as the first-team back with Richardson during Cleveland’s OTA practices.
This is a clear indication by Browns coaches that while Hardesty may not receive the same number of carries per game as Richardson, he’ll likely be able to land the No. 2 spot on the depth chart at the running back position.
Hardesty is a player that has not panned out as Browns fans and the organization have hoped to this point, but sharing carries with a back like Richardson could bring out the best in Hardesty sooner rather than later.
The Browns could quietly have a quality one-two punch on their hands at running back this season thanks to a healthy Hardesty.