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Cleveland Browns Training Camp 2010: Running Back Preview, the deepest stable in decades?

In terms of talent and expectations, there may not be a more improved position on the Browns from June 2009 to June 2010.  Gone is the old, slow, increasingly awful Jamal Lewis.  Joining the party is another #31 out of Tennessee with good size and an upright running style.  But while, Montario Hardesty is young and exciting, Lewis was counting the days until his retirement.  Also, the versatile Peyton Hillis joins the mix.  Add Hardesty and Hillis to the potentially very good Jerome Harrison, a healthy and young James Davis, and Chris Jennings, and you have a deep, competitive unit that could form the basis of a run-oriented offense: perhaps similar to the style of running game that gave us a successful December last year.


I should point out that the success of the running game goes far beyond these RBs.  First, more than just about any position, a RB is reliant on teammates and playcalling for success.  FBs (which will get their own preview) play a big part, as does the offensive line, of course. Plus, the Browns have two dynamic running threats in Josh Cribbs and Seneca Wallace that can supplement the traditional running game.  They will be utilized, at times, as pure runners- especially Cribbs. But they better fit in other categories for preview purposes.

I'll stay true to Chris's format for this preview, for the most part.


1. Jerome Harrison: Starting Running Back

Jerome Harrison

#35 / Running Back / Cleveland Browns



Feb 26, 1983

Washington State

Experience: 4 Seasons

2010: 862 Yds, 5 TD, 4.4 YPC; break-out in last three games

Jerome Harrison spent 3 3/4 seasons as a seldom used backup.  He showed flashes of breakout speed, but there were questions about his durability, size, toughness, and talent as a NFL player.  He got more attention from Chris here at DBN than he did from the offensive coordinators he played for.  But the former Washington State star took advantage of his first opportunity at extended NFL playing time late last season.  The team was terrible, especially the offense; it would have been easy for Harrison and the team to coast through those last three games and wait for whatever regime change and roster turnover awaited them. 

But following the lead of Josh Cribbs, Jerome Harrison showed determination and excellence amongst a bunch of disappointment and awfulness.  What did he do in those 4 games?

@KC: 34 carries, 286 Yards, 3 TD

vs. OAK 39 carries, 148 Yards, 1 TD

vs. JAC Jac 33 carries, 127 Yards, 1 TD

Ok, so the games didn't matter, he didn't really have much pressure on him.  He was also playing against some of the worst teams and defenses in the league, who might not have been giving much effort in stopping him.  And, after that ridiculous game against Kansas City- an aberration for even the best RBs- he averaged just 3.8 YPC in the last two games.  Caveats aside, Harrison was impressive and has earned lots of touches in 2010.

Worst Attribute: Size.  At a listed 5'9, 205, Harrison is small.  He was an absolute beast over those last three weeks, facing lots of 8 and 9 man fronts and carrying the ball a ton.  But until then, he had a reputation of being unable to stay on the field. And while 35 carries/game against the Raiders and Chiefs in meaningless December games are nice, it is yet to be seen if he can make it through the tough defenses in the AFC North schedule staying healthy and effective. 

Another bad attribute- blocking.  The Browns didn't do much passing with Harrison as their starting back in December 2009.  And camp and practice reports from the last four years are littered with mentions that Harrison doesn't block well.

Best Attribute: shiftiness. It isn't pure speed with Harrison.  And it certainly isn't size.  But it is rare that a defender gets a solid hit on him.  He runs to space and naturally moves away from defenders.  He is quick and shifty enough to do it.  He is just a very good runner with the football.

Another good attribute: size.  What?  I said he was too small?  Well, that has its advantages for running backs.  His diminutive stature allows him to get lost behind the big guys up front and opposing linebackers lose him in the pack.

Various Comments/Expectations: I don't really expect a ton from Harrison this year.  In my mind, the ideal situation has him as just one of several backs.  I don't know if he can change my mind in camp.  He never seems overly impressive in practice settings: evidenced by his failures to gain playing time without injuries to others.  Besides, I've never been a feature back guy.  But if Harrison can continue to show flashes while building consistency, he should be the lead man going into the season.

Job Security (as a starter): B

Player quality: B

Roster odds: 100%



2. Montario Hardesty - #2 RB/Backup

Montario Hardesty- #31

Height: 6-0

Weight: 225

Born: 2/1/1987

College: Tennesee

Experience: Rookie

2009: 1345 Yds, 13 TDs, 4.8 YPC ; 302 Yds receiving (at Tennessee)

Hardesty was something of a surprise pick for the Browns, but I loved it.  I wanted a young, big, RB high on potential, and that's just what we got with the 2nd leading rusher in the vaunted SEC.  Hardesty had a solid combine: 4.49 40 and a 41" vertical. 

Worst Attribute: the burst.  At least that's what the scouting reports say.  Although...


Another bad "attribute" is his medical history- he has had a history of knee problems that prevented him from shining at Tennessee until last year- though he got through the 09 season with a bunch of carries against a tough schedule unscathed.

Best Attribute: Style.  Hardesty compliments Harrison very nicely (and the rest of the small running backs on the team, for that matter).  While both Harrison and Hardesty are patient runners with good vision, Hardesty adds size and strength to the mix.  He has a heck of a spin move and runs smart.  

Another good attribute- lack of games in college.  While he practiced and was part of a big time program and had a ton of carries last year, he comes to Cleveland with minimal miles and hits taken.  This can never be underestimated at the running back position.

Various Comments/Expectations: Camp and the preseason will be very important for Hardesty.  Everyone from President Holmgren to the Running Backs coach must feel comfortable with the strides he makes before the season if he is going to be a major part of the offense come Week 1.  He is off to a great start in gaining that trust. But he must keep that up and hopeful there isn't any problems signing him. 

I expect him to get 10-15 carries a game right away.  Anything less would be a disappointment.

Job Security (as a contributor): B

Player Quality: B

Roster Odds: 98% (2% chance of a holdout)


Peyton Hillis - Backup RB/Backup FB/Short Yardage Back

Peyton Hillis

#28 / Running Back / Cleveland Browns



Jan 21, 1986


Experience: 2 seasons

2008: 343 Yds, 5 TDs, 5 YPC; 179 Yds receiving (as a rookie for the Broncos)

I  didn't include Hillis' 2009, because it doesn't tell us much.  Hillis was used as a FB, special teamer, and/or not at all for most games under their new head ass coach last year.  But 2008 showed that he could fill in as a starter/feature back.  That season he got over 15 carries in 2 late-season games.  The result?  Over 200 Yards rushing, 2 TDs, and a sleek 5.2 YPC. 

Worst Attribute: "Tweener".  Is he a FB or is he a RB? Sure, flexibility is good, but it also tends to mean that someone isn't really good at any one thing or position.  Hillis has been a part of some very good running offenses in the pros and colleges, but it is difficult to know how much can really be attributed to his blocking (and running) because he doesn't stay in the same role for entire seasons.  Really, this isn't so much of a weakness of Hillis as much as it is an extra variable we have in trying to evaluate him. 

Another bad attribute: speed.  He ran a 4.6 at the combine, and he lacks real quickness.

Best Attribute: Versatility.  Ok, so I like looking at two sides of the same coin for these things.  Maybe it is a cop-out, sorry.  But what else can you say about a guy that played FB, HB, WR, TE and returned punts and kicks in the SEC.  I wonder what his career would have been like at Arkansas if the Razor Backs didn't have Felix Jones and Darren McFadden

Another good attribute: character.  He has persevered through injuries, demotions, and difficult coaches and always took the high ground and excelled whenever given the chance.

Various Comments/Expectations: Hillis will be known to most fans as the dude we got for Brady Quinn.  As a major part of the "haul" we got for our one-time future-franchise QB, Hillis will certainly be a disappointment to some.  I expect very little in terms of statistical output.  But as a good bench player and an option for short-yardage plays, I think he can be a very good piece to a pretty solid running game.

Job Security (as a consistent offensive player): C-

Player Quality:C+

Roster Odds: 70%


4. James Davis: Backup Running Back

James Davis

#28 / Running Back / Cleveland Browns



Jan 01, 1986


(Don't ask me about the picture of the Lions player, I don't get it either.)

Experience: 1 year

2009: injured.

Davis was a lot of people's favorite pick for sleeper of the Browns 2009 draft.  There were some irrationally high hopes for a 6th round pick.

Worst Attribute: lack of greatness at anything.  You can be a successful back in this league even if you can only run in the 4.5's in the 40. You can be successful even if you are only 5'11, 215.  You can be successful even if you aren't that elusive.  You can be successful even if you are susceptible to shoulder injuries.  You can be successful even if you can't move an NFL pile.  But I'm not sure that you can be successful if you are less than ideal in each of these areas.

Another bad attribute: I don't want to rag the guy too much, I really do like him. But there are consistent reports that he is also a very below-average pass blocker.

Best Attribute: I'm tempted to say well-rounded- but I;ll choose something.  Davis does have some things going for him.  He had awesome sophomore and junior seasons at Clemson and probably would have been a mid-round pick in 2008.  He does have something of a good burst through the hole, and I'd like to see him in a one-cut and go system some day in the NFL.

Various Comments/Expectations: Frankly, he is an injury-prone, not-that-fast-not-that-big running back.  And those are pretty easy to find in the NFL.  I'd like to see him get a chance, I just don't know if that chance is going to be in Cleveland, barring an injury.  I see him making the team- if he can out-show Jennings and anyone else in camp. But I don't see him making the active roster very often, regardless if he makes the team.  He's the type of player that would benefit from an expanded roster or a developmental league system that has been discussed a little bit this offseason. 

Job Security (as an active player): D-

Player Quality: C-

Roster Odds: 51%


5. Chris Jennings: Backup RB/Practice Squad RB

Chris Jennings

#34 / Running Back / Cleveland Browns



Dec 12, 1985


Experience: 1 year (in the NFL, played 1 year in CFL)

2009: 220 Yds, 1 TD, 3.5 YPC (including an awesome game against the Steelers!)

There is just too much talent in front of him.  You can probably repeat all the things I said about Davis, except Jennings lacks the awesome college seasons to fall back on. 

Jennings is a good pass catcher and is quick enough to get to the edge.  Just ask the Steelers...


Player Quality: D

Roster Odds: 40%


6. Thomas Brown: Special Teams/Practice Squad RB

Thomas Brown, #29


Weight: 200

Born: 5/5/1986

College: Georgia

Experience: 2 Years

2009: Practice Squad then active roster for a few games, no stats.

I know nothing about this guy.  Apparently, he was drafted by the Falcons back in 2008, but was injured for the season in the preseason.  I vaguely remember him at Georgia, but I don't think he was a standout and had some injury issues on top of that.


Roster odds: 5%