BEREA — Browns running back Montario Hardesty’s preseason is over. His four-year career in Cleveland could be as well.
Hardesty will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery today that is expected to sideline him until at least mid-September. The former University of Tennessee standout was already on the roster bubble, so his latest injury could cause it to pop.
“We will just have to see when Montario gets back, and then balance that with the other guys at the position,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said Wednesday following practice. “At that point, we’ll see how they are doing and how they’ve done in the next couple of weeks.
“Montario knows this, but you have to keep coming back and keep fighting. It applies everywhere in this game, and he’ll make it back.”
The oft-injured Hardesty sat out 11 of Cleveland’s 16 training camp practices — and its preseason opener — with a strained hamstring, then dislocated his right thumb during a workout Monday.
Chudzinski said he was unsure which knee Hardesty has hurt this time, but it matters little as the 6-foot, 215-pounder has already undergone reconstructive surgery on both anterior cruciate ligaments.
“That injury bug is something that you can’t control, but you’ve got to find a way to stay positive,” said linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who suffered season-ending pectoral tears in 2009 and 2010. “Attitude is everything, so I would tell him to keep good people around him who will help him stay motivated and keep a positive outlook.”
Hardesty has only played in 23 games since the Browns selected him in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft, rushing for 537 yards and one touchdown on 153 carries. He also has 16 receptions, but has never made a strong push to win a starting spot.
Making his current situation even bleaker, Dion Lewis and Brandon Jackson have been impressive. Rookie Miguel Maysonet even logged nine carries in Cleveland’s 27-19 preseason opening win over St. Louis.
With second-year pro Trent Richardson entrenched as the featured back, it’s unlikely Chudzinski will keep more than two backups at the spot. Right now, they appear to change-of-pace runner Lewis and pass-catching specialist Jackson.
“Hopefully, Montario will be able to bounce back,” six-time Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas said. “When he was out there last year, he did a great job.
“I’m not saying there is a bright side to this situation, but if there is, Montario has had a few knee surgeries, so he knows what the rehab process entails.”
Richardson will make his preseason debut tonight when the Browns host the Detroit Lions at FirstEnergy Stadium. Chudzinski held him out of the Rams game for precautionary reasons after he was kicked in the right shin during practice.
Lewis, who is listed as Richardson’s backup on the team’s official depth chart, is expected to relieve him late in the first quarter. Jackson and Maysonet will follow and should receive plenty of carries in the second half.
The Browns’ options for Hardesty — provided ligament damage is not discovered when he goes under the knife — are fairly straight-forward.
Cleveland can keep him on its 53-man roster following its final cuts on Aug. 31, release him at any time, pursue an injury settlement and waive him, designate him as physically unable to perform or place him on injured reserve.
If the Browns choose the latter option, they could shelve him on season-ending IR or designate him for return.
“Once he has the surgery, it’s just one day at a time for everything,” Jackson said. “Montario has to keep his whole focus on his recovery, try to stay positive and look at the outcome of how he can make the situation better. We’re all hoping things work out for him, though, for sure.”
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