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Browns' RB woes a major concern

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Posted Oct. 31, 2011 @ 9:56 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Browns RB Montario Hardesty will miss the Week Nine game at Houston with a calf injury, head coach Pat Shurmur indicated Monday, according to multiple reports.

Hardesty, who left Sunday's loss at San Francisco with the injury, "will miss games," Shurmur said, according to The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. The Browns will bring in running backs for tryouts on Tuesday, Shurmur said, per The Plain Dealer.

RB Peyton Hillis, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, is "day-to-day," Shurmur said, according to The (Willoughby, Ohio) News-Herald.

With Hardesty leaving the game early on Sunday, Chris Ogbonnaya was the Browns' only tailback. He rushed 11 times for 37 yards and caught five passes for 24 yards.

The PFW spin

The Browns' RB corps has been drastically thinned by injuries. In addition to Hillis and Hardesty, ex-Packers RB Brandon Jackson landed on injured reserve with turf toe before playing a regular-season game for Cleveland.

If Hillis can't play, Ogbonnaya figures to start. Armond Smith, who began the season on the roster before being waived in favor of Ogbonnaya, could be promoted from the practice squad to add more depth, or perhaps a free agent will be signed.

But let's face facts: The Browns are unlikely to find anything but short-term solutions on the waiver wire. Ogbonnaya runs hard and catches the ball relatively well, but he is untested, and how he'll consistently handle a heavier workload remains to be seen. Considering he's the best option the Browns have at the position right now, this is no small concern. Ogbonnaya fumbled after a big hit on Sunday, but OLT Joe Thomas recovered, averting a near-disaster.

The real issue here is that neither Hillis nor Hardesty has been able to stay healthy, nor play particularly well. Hillis' season has gone downhill since he missed the Week Three game vs. Miami with strep throat, which bubbled over into a multi-week controversy. Simply put, Hillis handled the situation and the fallout thereafter questionably, at best.

Then, he suffered the hamstring injury, which kept him out of the Week Seven game vs. Seattle. He practiced Wednesday but suffered a setback, and he couldn't play on Sunday.

In Hillis' absence, Hardesty has been serviceable, flashing good speed to the hole and some power, but he's gaining just 3.3 yards per carry. Overall, he's rushed for 244 yards on 75 carries.

Hardesty's injury history was a concern even before he entered the NFL. He suffered a torn right ACL in college at Tennessee. In the Browns' final preseason game in 2010, he tore the ACL in his left knee. Now, Hardesty is dealing with a calf injury that will likely keep him out multiple games.

The Browns need to address their RB depth now as a matter of getting through the games to come, and they need to re-evaluate their plan of action at the position in the offseason. Whether the Browns re-sign Hillis or not, Cleveland needs to get more durable — and more dynamic — at the position. Carrying four running backs instead of just three backs might make sense, too.

The usage of the running backs needs to be reconsidered, too. Hardesty got 33 carries in Week Seven. This issue, I suppose, is related to roster configuration, too — Ogbonnaya, who had just been signed earlier in the week, was the only other healthy back on the active roster in that game.

Have the Browns been unlucky at this position? Yes. But that isn't the entire story.

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