As the Browns prepare to embark their second season under Pat Shurmur there are many questions that remain. With training camp opening Sat. July 28, we're going to take a position-by-position analysis of the current roster as the team heads to camp over the next few weeks.
Part two is the running back and fullback positions.
When the Browns chose to let Peyton Hillis walk during free agency, they created a hole in the backfield as neither Hardesty or Jackson have shown they can be reliable featured backs. Not only did the Browns feel a need to address the quarterback position, they had to find a starting running back.
And by all indications they did.
Not wanting to be left at the altar and taking no chances they traded to move up from the fourth spot to number three to get the premier running back in this year's draft.
Richardson (5-9, 230, first year, Alabama) – Taken with the third overall pick, the Browns are expected to make Richardson the focal point of the offense. He could be plugged in and used the way Hillis was in 2010 as Richardson can pass block, as well as be an effective receiver coming out of the backfield. Some draft experts said Richardson is the best back to come out of college since Adrian Peterson. Richardson can make things a lot easier for Brandon Weeden or Colt McCoy or whoever is the quarterback as the running game has to be better than last year and cause teams to have to game plan against someone.
Jackson (5-10, 216, 6th year, Nebraska) -- Jackson was penciled in to be the third down back after signing as an unrestricted free agent from the Packers in 2011. However, he suffered a toe injury and was on injured reserve before he got out of the starting blocks. He is being counted on to take that role over again in 2012.
Hardesty (6-0, 225, 3rd year, Tennessee) – Hardesty was hampered in 2011 by a calf injury after missing his rookie season with a torn ACL. He had 266 yards (3.0 avg.) with no touchdowns. His best game was a 95-yard performance on 33 rushes against the Seahawks. He also caught 14 passes on the season. This is a put up or shut up year for Hardesty after Tom Heckert made a bold move in 2010 by trading up to get Hardesty in the second-round after Hardesty had an injury-prone college career.
Ogbonnaya (6-0, 225, 3rd year, Texas) – Ogbonnaya was pressed into service after the top three backs went down with injury. He responded with a 121-yard rushing game against Jacksonville and finished second on the team with 334 yards (4.6 avg.) and one touchdown. He also caught 23 passes. However, he could be the odd man out if the projected top three are healthy.
Thomas (5-9, 185, rookie, Toledo) – Thomas came out of nowhere as a tryout invitee at the rookie minicamp and was signed to the roster. The Browns thought enough of him to let speedster Armond Smith go. With a good preseason, Thomas will be a candidate for the practice squad.
Marecic (6-0, 245, 2nd year, Stanford) – Marecic was the starter for the 2011 season after being drafted in the fourth-round out of Stanford, but suffered two concussions as a rookie. He had just four carries for 8 yards and caught five passes. He should be better, but the head injuries are worrisome.
Williams (6-1, 242, 2nd year, Idaho) – Williams was on the practice squad and was called up to the active roster when Marecic was injured. He could be a dark horse candidate to replace Marecic, but didn't help his cause missing the spring practices due to an injury.
Smelley (6-2, 235, rookie, Alabama) – The Browns selected him in the seventh-round and the former lead blocker for Richardson could have the same role in the NFL. Smelley has the versatility to play both fullback and tight end.
Better than 2011? Last season, the Browns used their fourth and fifth running backs after injuries to Jackson, Hillis and Hardesty. Thomas Clayton was used and Ogbonnaya came in off the Texans' practice squad and started with two days practice. Thus, the Browns should be much stronger at running back this year with Richardson being the workhorse. Hillis was the leading rusher in 2011 with just 587 yards and three touchdowns, so it should be easy for a healthy Richardson to exceed those numbers.
Marecic was a rookie and struggled besides suffering concussions. He should be much better in his second season. Smelley could be a very interesting addition. He was impressive in the OTAs and the minicamp.