Cleveland Browns 2010 Training Camp: Montario Hardesty Injury Effect
It was inevitable.
Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game of football and every season it seems that they are part of training camps around the league. For the Cleveland Browns, it was only a question of when it would happen and how big of an impact it would have on the team.
The good news is that the first injury of 2010 training camp is not a serious one. The bad news is that the injured player is highly touted second-round draft pick Montario Hardesty, the talented, bruising running back who is expected to play a significant role in Cleveland's offense this coming season.
Head coach Eric Mangini has said that Hardesty twisted his knee and is only expected to miss a couple of weeks, but those couple of weeks happen to be during the first training camp of Hardesty's pro career.
This injury looks to have a significant impact on the Cleveland Browns as the team prepares for the 2010 season, but everything will rest on exactly how the team handles the situation.
There is plenty of time for the team to adjust before the start of the regular season, so let's take a look at just how Hardesty's injury may affect different parts of the team during training camp.
Jerome Harrison was able to showcase his ability during the final three games of the 2009 season, racking up 561 yards on the ground during those three games.
However, at 5'9" and 205 lbs, Harrison is considered to be a smallish back by NFL standards. The new front office seemed to have concerns that Harrison would be unable to stand up to a full season as an every down back and drafted the bigger Hardesty to help bear some of the load.
Hardesty was more than impressive during rookie mini camp and organized team activities this off-season and the coaching staff has been very happy with how quickly he has been adjusting to the pro game.
Harrison missed most of OTAs during a holdout over his RFA contract, giving Hardesty a chance to shine with the first team offense.
Hardesty's bigger frame, powerful running style, and ability to be a threat in the passing game give him the talents to be a feature back at the NFL level. Many have felt that Hardesty would be a serious threat to steal the starting job out from under Harrison, forcing Harrison into a change of pace role.
Now Harrison looks to get all of the first team reps during training camp and the majority of pre-season, affording him more time to cement himself as the starter to open the regular season.
Barring more unexpected events during training camp, expect Jerome Harrison to remain the starting running back for the Browns, at least for now.
Able to excel as both a fullback and a running back, Peyton Hillis is a beast of a player who looked to make a serious contribution to Cleveland's offense, even before the injury to Hardesty.
Now, with Hardesty out of action, Hillis moves into the backup role at running back and should see plenty of time with the second team offense during training camp.
The 6'2" 250lb Hilis is an absolute behemoth of a ball carrier. His 4.9 career YPC average is a testament to just how difficult it is to bring the big man down once he gets running upfield.
Fans in Cleveland had expected Hillis to provide depth at fullback and to carry the football in short yardage situations. With Hardesty out, Hillis should get plenty of pre-season playing time, giving him a chance to show the coaching staff and fans alike just what he can do as a ball carrier.
A solid pre-season by Hillis, and Hardesty might find himself battling for the number two spot when he returns from injury instead of competing to be the starter.
Just as there as been a buzz in Cleveland over Montario Hardesty this off-season, fans were gushing over rookie running back James Davis during the 2009 pre-season.
Davis lit it up during pre-season, showing off the skills that he used to keep C.J. Spiller on the bench at Clemson for two seasons. Particularly memorable was Davis' 81-yard touchdown run against the Detroit Lions in the second pre-season game.
However, Davis' amazing pre-season came against third and fourth string players and he was unable to make an impact during the regular season. Davis was placed on injured reserve early in the season following an injury suffered while training after practice.
Now in his second year, Davis is returned from injury and finds himself near the bottom of the depth chart. With a very deep backfield ahead of him, Davis will need to have another outstanding pre-season to earn him a spot on the 53-man roster.
The good news for Davis is that, with Hardesty sidelined, he should see more playing time during pre-season with the second team and maybe even with the starters.
If Davis is able to tear apart defenses consisting of players who will actually make the team, he may force the coaching staff to give him some meaningful playing time in 2010.
Unlike fellow second year man James Davis, Chris Jennings was able to have some success during the 2009 regular season. Most notable was the win against the Pittsburgh Steelers when Jennings ran for 73 yards and became the first Browns running back with a rushing touchdown in 2009.
While Jennings played well at times in his limited opportunities, he only had a 3.5 YPC average for the season which is less than ideal for an NFL running back.
One of the biggest knocks against Jennings is that he shows a lack of vision on the field. The former CFL player was often seen bypassing narrow running lanes in an effort to use his speed to try to hit the edge and turn upfield.
Reports from training camp are that Jennings looks to be much improved over last year, but he is going to need to make the most of every opportunity this pre-season if he has any hope of making the regular season roster.
The injury to Hardesty likely means that Jennings will not find himself a victim of early pre-season cuts and he will at least have a few extra weeks to try to impress the coaching staff and make the choice for the final RB spot even more difficult.
All of the quarterbacks expected to be on Cleveland's opening season roster are new to the team. Projected starter Jake Delhomme is a knowledgeable 11 year veteran, but like any player in a new system will need time to develop chemistry with the players around him.
One of the most underrated aspects of Hardesty's game is his effectiveness as a receiver out of the backfield. Hardesty shows good hands for a running back and amassed 302 yards on 25 receptions in his senior season at Tennessee with an impressive 12.1 yards per catch average.
It is very important for the quarterbacks to have time to get comfortable with the running backs on the roster, both as receivers and in pass protection.
It could especially be a problem for Delhomme, who is expected to start, and the missed time together could take away Hardesty as a weapon on passing downs early in the regular season.
The Coaching Staff
One of the biggest effects of Montario Hardesty's injury may be seen in how the coaching staff is able to incorporate him in the offense once he returns.
While head coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll have had some time with Hardesty in rookie camp and OTAs, that time didn't involve players in pads or in real-game situations.
A full training camp and pre-season is crucial for a coaching staff to be able evaluate the abilities of any player, particularly rookies who have no prior NFL experience. Now the coaching staff will have less time to evaluate Hardesty and what he is going to bring to the offense in 2010.
If Hardesty is unable to return from injury in time to see significant time in pre-season, it may take a few games into the regular season before the coaching staff is able to gauge his progression and find ways to best utilize him on the field.
The Front Office
The hiring of Mike Holmgren as Cleveland Browns team president and the appointment of Tom Heckert as general manager have bought excitement and optimism to Cleveland. Fans were quick to believe that the new front office would finally be able to steer the Browns organization in the right direction.
However Cleveland fans are quick to change their minds and several of the teams off-season moves have been questioned. Many were skeptical of the signing of Jake Delhomme and the jettisoning of incumbent quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, among other moves.
The inaugural draft of the new front office has been questioned as well. While the draft looks solid on paper and filled several team needs, the selection of two second-round players with significant injury histories made many wonder if Holmgren and Heckert indeed knew what they were doing.
Now the questionable selections seem cause for alarm. Safety T.J. Ward spent part of mini camp on the stationary bike with tightness in the leg, and now Hardesty is going to miss a large part of training camp with a knee injury. Hopefully this is not a sign of things to come.
Every draft pick is a bit of a gamble and it was refreshing to see the front office take a chance on a couple of big risk/reward players. If everything goes right, both Ward and Hardesty could make Holmgren and Heckert looks like geniuses. However if the Browns struggle to win early and Hardesty has trouble seeing the field due to injury, it could be the first place where fans begin to turn on the new men in charge in Cleveland.
Perhaps no one will feel the effects of Montario Hardesty's injury more than Hardesty himself.
While the transition from college to the NFL can be easier for running backs than for players at other positions, adjusting to the intricacies of the pro game can be a daunting task for any first-year player.
Hardesty is said to be a quick study and his injury probably won't keep him from learning the terminology and schemes the will be used in Cleveland. However improving his route running, adapting to NFL pass protection and simply becoming acclimated to the speed of the game is going to take time.
Missing time due to injury is an obvious setback, and Hardesty's chances of earning the starting job to open the season look to be fading more with each rep he misses during pre-season.
This doesn't mean that Montario Hardesty will not have a stellar rookie season. It simply means that while fans would love to see Hardesty start the season at Tampa Bay with 100+ yards and a couple of touchdowns, they may have to wait a bit longer for the rookie's big breakout game.