My expectations at the running back position were extremely high for the Cleveland Browns prior to the start of the regular season. We had what I believed to be one of the deepest running back groups in the league. At the top of the depth chart, we had Peyton Hillis -- a very physical back that fans loved who was finally getting some help this year. That helped would be split up between Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson. It's unclear as to how exactly both men would be used, but based on what I saw in training camp, at least Hillis and Jackson were basically the two most important components of our West Coast Offense (not including the offensive line).
I can't tell you how many wheel routes the Browns would throw to Jackson during training camp. Every other play seemed like a wheel route down the sideline, and every time Jackson showed great hands and McCoy would hit him right on target. He was also a great blocking back, one who would have been a huge asset in third down situations.
Now, let's flash forward to the half-way point of the regular season (today). Our top two running backs are Chris Ogbonnaya and Thomas Clayton. These are guys who weren't even accepted as third-stringers on any team in the NFL; for all intents and purposes, the coaching staff was forced to pick up two practice squad players and quickly teach them the offense that everyone else has struggled to master.
To say that the running backs unit has fallen short of expectations would be an understatement. It's not a talent issue, it is an injury issue. Hillis has basically only played in three games, and two of those games involves questionable usage of his abilities. Hardesty stepped in fairly well for two games before suffering an injury. Jackson never made it past the preseason with a turf toe.
If the Browns end up re-signing Hillis, all three backs will be back next year. I still have confidence in Hillis and Jackson, but it's tougher to say with Hardesty given his injury history. Either way, the Browns can definitely improve at this position during the second half of the season: both Hillis and Hardesty could be back in a couple of weeks, right when the big division games are about to commence.
I don't think I even need to ask -- the running back position has been a huge letdown this year, agreed? We don't even need to bring up Hillis' off-the-field issues; I'm just referring to productivity over eight games.