Coming into the 2011 season, it was surmised by most that the Browns and Madden coverboy Peyton Hillis would embrace in a harmonious hug and ink a deal to make the previously-unheralded RB the face of the future.
However, in what would prove to be one of their wisest moves, Heckert did not agree to the likely exotic demands of a one-hit wonder. This was followed by ineffective running, mystery ailments, random agent changes, secret player meetings, and locker room discord. Seemingly no one was on Hillis' side, and for players to turn on a fellow player during a battle with management, said player has to really piss them off.
Whatever the reasons, Hillis was allowed to walk away and sign a feeble one-year contract as a backup (thus trumpeting what the rest of the league thought of his value), leaving the Browns with a massive hole.
On draft day, the Browns listened to persistent rumors that Tampa wanted to trade with Minnesota to leapfrog Cleveland and steal Alabama's Trent Richardson, seen as far and away the best RB prospect in the draft. So they traded a couple mid-to-late picks to move up one spot and secure themselves their Franchise Back - if such a thing truly exists in this day and age.
The addition of Richardson instantly transforms the RB spot from a gaping, oozing, festering wound into a position of perceived strength. Trent comes into the league with the supposition that he will soon be a Top 10-type player, if he doesn't become so immediately. With Jackson back from his 2011-killing injury and 2 players with some potential fighting it out for #3, the Browns might be able to throw an arsenal of runners at other teams that will make them actually notice they exist.
Regarding The Running Backs
Trent Richardson - Rookie/1st round - Alabama - 5'10/224 - 22 years old - (jersey #33) - It's rare for the #3 overall pick to be getting so little buzz, but I think the reason for that is twofold: 1 - The floor for Richardson is perceived to be very high, that even if he isn't "great", he'll be "good", and this leads to number 2 - Since he's "safe", the focus will be on the more boom-or-bust draft picks like Weeden and Gordon.
Obviously, Richardson will be the clear-cut starter, and the only drama for Training Camp/Preseason will be how many carries he gets.
Marcellus Wiley on one of those insufferable ESPN shows said he didn't expect much from Brandon Weeden this year because "all he'll be doing is handing the ball off." While I think that is a massively lazy attempt at analysis (which is par for the course from national media types when discussing the Browns), I do agree that Richardson will get a TON of carries.
Brandon Jackson - 6th season/2nd round - Nebraska - 5'10/216 - 26 - (#29) - Coming back from a turf toe injury that cost him the entire 2011 season (I know turf toe can be incredibly painful, but it sounds like an injury akin to "tweaked buttock" or "strained eyelid"), Jackson has apparently looked very good, very fast, and could be considered a lock to grab one of the (likely) 3 RB spots.
Jackson has never been a super-effective runner, but he has plenty of experience in the WCO and can catch the ball well out of the backfield. One has the tendency to refer to him as the Browns' 3rd Down Back, but that might be misleading since Richardson will probably stay on the field for entire drives at a time. The probability is that Jackson will get "drives" here and there to spell Richardson, which he will split with the 3rd RB to make the team.
Montario Hardesty - 3rd season/2nd round - Tennessee - 6'1/225 - 25 - (#20) - In 2010, the Browns traded up to pick Hardesty in the 2nd round, a talented RB with a messy injury history. In general, I feel injury history is overblown, especially when a player checks out 100% physically. But in Hardesty's case, it seems he was just born a china doll.
Hardesty lost 2010 to an ACL tear and was ineffective and banged-up in his 2011 comeback. There are many who will argue that a player will not return to 100% after an ACL injury until 2 years have passed, which in theory would put Montario at 100% for the first time in his professional career.
I have my doubts, but he'll certainly get every chance to prove that theory correct. The Browns drafted him high for a reason and likely would be unhappy having to eat the big shit sandwich that is dumping him (which they'd probably have to do given his injury history despite the fact that I think he will have a little value around the league), so if there's a "tie" between he and Og, then Montario probably would win. But if they both look like they did last season, that ain't a "tie".
Chris Ogbonnaya- 3rd season/Undrafted - Texas - 6'1/225 - 26 - (#25) - An emergency injury-related pickup last season, Og came on and proved to be the Browns best 2011 RB. Which is not a glowing endorsement.
Here's the endorsement: Although not gifted with the raw physical talents of the other RB's (including Thomas), Og knew how to locate and hit a hole last year the way none of the others did (including Hillis). If you can be effective with your opportunities, you don't need to have blazing speed.
Og is popular with fans as a blue-collar type guy and will probably be the clear "rooting interest" in the battle for a roster spot. But it's VERY much up in the air who wins this one.
Adonis Thomas- Rookie/Undrafted - Toledo - 5'9/185 - 23 - (#40) - Armond Smith was a bit of a Preseason Wunderkind last year, but his Regular Season exploits were dud-ish, and he was torpedoed after this year's draft when the Browns picked up a guy with similar (we'd assume slightly superior) attributes to replace him.
Thomas ran a 4.46 forty, so we know he's fast (he better be fast at his size). He rushed for 1071 yards and 12 TD's at 6.3/per at Toledo last year, so we know he can be productive. But the transition for guys his size to the NFL is not easy or often.
Still, we only need look at how the New Orleans Saints utilize Darren Sproles to realize that backs of this type can have value if used properly and possessing the proper skill set. My guess is that Thomas would've been drafted by someone if they thought he possessed that skill set, but this could simply be the case of everyone assuming they could get him as an UDFA because he's small. At the very least, should be interesting to watch.
Regarding The Fullbacks
Owen Marecic - 2nd season/4th round - Stanford - 6'1/245 - 23 years old - (#48) - Marecic was instantly unpopular upon being drafted to replace St. Lawrence of Vickers, a sign to some that the apocalypse was indeed nigh. Compound that with his inability to pick up firsts in some short yardage situations, the demise of the running game last season, and his missed time due to concussions... well, you've got a guy that doesn't have many fans.
I'm more indifferent to him than most. He's not in the game all that much, and isn't asked to do anything impressive. He needs to make more of his opportunities and become more of a weapon, but a lot of people looked bad on offense last year so I'll give him the 2012 season before I string him up from a blimp.
Still, the concussion trend is a bit worrisome. He had a couple last season, and a lead blocker with a concussion problem isn't... uh... ideal. If one of the other guys can prove that he can do the job as well as Owen, it would not be utterly shocking to see him as roster casualty.
Brad Smelley - Rookie/7th round - Alabama - 6'2/233 - 25 - (#47) - Early reports have him looking good, but as what? He's not particularly fast, not particularly athletic, not a particularly good receiver, not a particularly good blocker. It sounds like Smelley is a true H-back type, which the WCO loves and which means he could comfortably line up at either the FB or TE position, but does that mean a roster spot?
My guess is that Smelley doesn't supplant Marecic but shows enough to be a late cut/Practice Squad addition, just like the other interesting comfort blanket, Josh Cooper.
Eddie Williams - 4th season/7th round - Idaho - 6'1/242 - 24 - (#44) - Mr. Williams was drafted in 2009 and has spent the last 3 years bouncing from Practice Squad to Practice Squad. In those 3 years, he has accumulated 2 carries for 2 yards and 1 catch for 17 yards (all with the Seahawks). There are those that will clamor for a true lead-blocking FB, but that's not necessarily how the position is used in the WCO, and Williams played TE/H-Back at Idaho, so he can't be called a true FB anyway. Likely won't make the team, but worth watching since last year's FB cut Tyler Clutts went on to have a good season (better than Marecic for sure) after the Bears picked him up.
Regarding The Predicted Outcome
I'm going out on a limb and predicting that Richardson makes the team.
Jackson will likely be slotted at #2, and the TC battle royale between Hardesty and Ogbonnaya is too close to call. As I said before, Hardesty would win any draws, but injury or ineffectiveness is more likely to settle this thing. I don't see either one of them as tradable at this point, and I just don't see them keeping 4 backs with a warhorse like Richardson in the stable. So let's just go ahead and guess that Hardesty gets unceremoniously dumped to pretty much seal his fate as NFL trivia question. Sigh.
And Thomas gets stashed on the Practice Squad, only to be stolen by someone later this season.
At Fullback, Marecic will make the roster, and hopefully he'll have a chip on his shoulder. Smelley could make the active roster as well, but is far more likely to be relegated to the PS, where he will not be stolen.
Eddie takes a ream of light beige to Kinko's for another round of resumĂ©-mailers.
Regarding Gaps In Logic
The national media has no love for the Cleveland Browns, and their disdain is indeed earned. But the claims they will be the worst team in the NFL and win only 1 game? Dumber than a truckful of diseased aardvark spleens.
The 4 win Browns - a team that had a very good chance of winning 7 or 8 other games - got noticeably better at RB, QB, WR, and RT, lost almost no one/nothing, and got... WORSE?
They play a much harder schedule this year.
They do? Based on what? You can't predict the difficulty of a schedule before the season. Some of the teams that should be down will be up. Some of the teams that should be up will be down. Some key players will get injured.
Yes, but, based on last year, the schedule is much more difficult.
How? Outside of the division, they play exactly ONE GAME against a team that had a winning record in 2011. ONE.
Yes, but several of those teams will be better this year.
And several of them will be worse. And when "assuming" that all the Browns opponents will be better, are you not "assuming" that the Browns might be better?
I mean, even if they stayed status quo with Montario Hardesy and Colt McCoy throwing to Greg Little, I don't know how you logically can assume they'd BE WORSE.
Listen, douche, I'm not wasting my time discussing the Cleveland f-ing Browns. I got better things to do.
Ah, the crux of the matter. Thanks ESPN for completely eradicating intelligent sports journalism. The sports writers of old weep for the future.