One thing that persists as a dark cloud over the Browns is the wide receiver situation from last season. The Browns drafted Greg Little and brought in Jordan Norwood, but the statements that will forever hang in the air are words of confidence in a depth chart featuring Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie at the top. Of course MoMass suffered through some injuries and went on to combine with a battered Colt McCoy for a pretty bad passing attack while Robiskie was cut loose altogether. I still have hopes for Massaquoi when he’s cast in the right spot in the offense, but there’s really no doubting that overall Tom Heckert and company mis-read the abilities of the receiver group as a whole a season ago. When Brian Robiskie got cut, it was pretty much an admission of guilt by the Browns brass, I think. Which brings me to the question about running backs coming into 2012. The Browns have let Peyton Hillis go without much fight and they are rumored to like Trent Richardson, but what do you think they’re thinking for real with regard to their own depth chart? I have a sneaking suspicion that their confidence level is higher in the existing crew than fans might think. If I am right, I think the Browns could be headed for another mistake.
In fairness, my inkling could be totally false. The draft season is the season for misdirection, obviously. The Browns were reportedly impressed by Trent Richardson. Also even if they bypass Richardson or miss out on him with the fourth pick, they’ll have chances at some other pretty highly ranked running backs. Point being, I might be sounding the alarm for no reason. But follow me for a bit.
The Browns still like Montario Hardesty. I’m convinced of it. I’m also convinced that they’re giving Hardesty something of a mulligan for last season. The retrofitted goal after last year was for Hardesty to play through a year relatively healthily. Hardesty only played in ten games, but considering that he was coming off ACL surgery, it was a pretty healthy year. As far as we can tell, there were no new serious injuries introduced. Also, ACL patients are notorious for being back on the field and then “being back” for real six months to a year later. Say what you want about Braylon Edwards, but his recovery from ACL surgery was a thing to behold. It isn’t that quick for most guys.
I have had two ACL surgeries so I can attest to the fact that even though you’re back running and cutting 6-8 months after surgery, you probably don’t hit full speed for a full year at least. Granted my “full speed” was a fraction of Hardesty’s in order to play in the NFL, but I think my experience is still applicable. If I had to guess, I would think that the Browns, their medical staff and Tom Heckert are very optimistic that Montario Hardesty will have his best chance to be the player they drafted this upcoming season. That thought could give them a (false?) sense of security at the spot and keep them from drafting Richardson.
In another area, I think the Browns feel as if they did sign a free agent this off-season in a way. Brandon Jackson never made it out of training camp when he contracted turf toe. The Browns say he is healthy and ready to go this season. While he may not be a guy that you and I want to hang our hats on, you have to think the guys who felt the need to sign him last year still value him pretty greatly as a major contributor for the 2012 season. To the Browns side of the ledger it is in fact another contract year for Jackson, which is something.
After that you have Chris Ogbonnaya who had two pretty good games in four starts against the Rams and Jags. Don’t count me in the camp that wants to have to count on Ogbonnaya this upcoming season, but I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t want him on the depth chart. He showed some small flashes and at least could be counted on to protect in the passing game.
You also have Eddie Williams with two career attempts in three NFL seasons. None of those attempts occurred last year or with the Browns at all. Armond Smith who I’ve overrated myself after seeing him in training camp last season is still in my plans, but even I can’t speak his name with regard to the depth chart with a straight face at this point.
That doesn’t mean that the Browns aren’t feeling pretty good about the prospects of Hardesty, Jackson and Ogbonnaya. Certainly their inability to sniff out busts in the receiving game a year ago at least open the door to entertain the fear. And fear is the right word, I think. The Browns have decent depth at running back, but no answers. I won’t pin the Browns to a failing grade if they don’t get Trent Richardson in the upcoming draft, but I do have my fears that the Browns won’t address the running back position seriously enough this off-season.