Can Hardesty Stay Healthy?

If so, the Browns have a pleasant problem at running back. The Browns surprised many when selecting the Tennessee RB, but it may be the NFL that winds up surprised...

Montario Hardesty was planning for his future when he chose to attend the University of Tennessee after a sterling career at New Bern High School in North Carolina.

"I went to the SEC to play in the college conference that was most like the NFL," Hardesty said recently. "It definitely isn't the NFL, but hopefully that will help me out a lot by the time we put the pads on and things start moving around faster.

"Playing in the NFL has been a dream of mine since before elementary school. I wanted to put myself in a situation where I could be with the best guys so when and if I got my chance I'd be ready to play."

The Browns selected Hardesty, 6-0, 225 pounds, with the 59th pick in the draft in April. They traded their first pick in the third round, pick 71 overall, and two fifth-round picks to move back into the second round to get him. They made the trade with the Eagles because they did not want to wait for 12 teams to draft and risk seeing Hardesty end up somewhere else.

The Browns have no regrets about drafting Hardesty. He did not hesitate in minicamp when he rushed through a crack in the line and he demonstrated he can catch the ball in traffic. He worked with the first team, particularly on goal line drills.

Jerome Harrison participated in minicamp, but he missed the early part of OTAs because he was unhappy with his contract. That meant extra practice time for Hardesty.

"He's a good athlete," general manager Tom Heckert Jr. said during minicamp. "He's picking up the offense well. We're happy with him.

"He didn't get a whole lot of opportunities to catch the ball at Tennessee, but he's shown he can do it. We're pleasantly surprised. When he gets the pads on he's even more impressive."

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is going to have to figure out how to divide carries between Hardesty and Harrison. It is too soon to know who will start and who will end up with more carries.

Harrison, a 2006 fifth-round draft pick, totaled 77 carries in the first three years of his career. He carried 106 times in the final three games of 2009 while rushing for 561 yards.

"There's good depth there and I'm happy with it with Jerome and Montario," Coach Eric Mangini said. "Montario has done a really nice job for a rookie. He's taken a lot of reps and then Peyton will play there for us. We have Chris Jennings and James Davis. Both guys did some nice things last year so it's a competitive group. I'm excited to see what they do in training camp and then with their opportunities during the preseason."

The biggest question concerning Hardesty: Can he stay healthy? He had a torn ACL in 2005, a sprained ankle in 2007 and a stress fracture in 2008. He was finally injury free in 2009 and averaged 108.8 yards a game while playing 12 games. He was so admired by his teammates at Tennessee that he was elected captain as a junior and senior, despite starting only one of the 11 games he played in in 2008 because of the stress fracture.

Hardesty believes the injuries are behind him. The Browns agree. During his draft summary Heckert said Browns doctors examined Hardesty closely and are convinced he is not an injury risk.

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