BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – Cleveland Browns running back Montario Hardesty expected to be a fixture in the Browns’ backfield for years.
Nearly 3 seasons, a pair of knee injuries and the selection of Trent Richardson later, Hardesty finds himself searching for carries and trying to make the most of them.
“I’m just trying to come in and make plays for the team,” Hardesty said. “Just trying to do my job and make a play, that’s my only focus going into the game and even winning and playing well so as a team we’re trying to keep that going.”
Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft by general manager Tom Heckert, Hardesty is trying to prove that he isn’t a bust and has plenty to contribute on Sunday’s.
“I told those guys when they first drafted me that I was going to come in and be hungry and ready to play,” Hardesty said. “I just wanted to do that.”
Hardesty, who was also plagued by injuries while at Tennessee, is as healthy as he’s been in years and it’s starting to show on the field.
In 9 games he’s rushed for 215 yards and a touchdown on 43 carries this season – 10 of those totes have gone for first downs.
“I like the fact that he’s been able to come in and explode and just give us a different pace,” offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. “It’s nice to have two different kinds of backs, because the defense kind of sets its cleats in the ground for one style run. Then somebody else comes in, and all of a sudden it’s a little different style running.
“Montario’s been able to have some explosive plays and give us production. Not ridiculous production, but enough production where you’re not afraid to say give him the next series.”
Hardesty ran for a team-high 52 yards on 10 attempts in Sunday’s 30-7 win over Kansas City and is averaging 4.7 yards per carry this season.
“You’ve got to make the most out of your carries, even if it’s 3 carries or you’re getting 25 carries,” Hardesty said. “I feel like as a running back you want to get as much yardage as you can out of that so mine might be with less carries or in a shorter time period but it’s the same thing. You want to do a good job and do it well.”
In the last 4 weeks, Hardesty has ripped off runs of 12, 13, 19, and 25 yards but credits Richardson for setting him up to gash defenses for impressive chunks of real estate.
“He’s wearing out defenses,” Hardesty said. “When I come in they have to adjust. Sometimes I go for the cutbacks more and do different things so I feel like having Trent before me kind of opens things up and it’s my role to come in and make plays like that for our offense right now so that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Early in the 4th quarter against the Chiefs, Hardesty thought he had his second touchdown of the season but lost the football trying to get across the goal line. He thought that he got in but the fumble got him yanked from the game and Richardson ran it in on the next play.
After the game Shurmur admitted that he was mad at himself for pulling Hardesty.
“That’s cool,” Hardesty said. “It’s great to have coaches that are going to stand up for you. Earning back the trust of my teammates and coaches is a big thing as well. It was cool to know that your coach has your back.”
Hardesty’s recent bursts into the secondary have fans clamoring for him to get more carries on Sunday’s. While appreciative of the new found fan support, he’s also been on the other side of that coin in Cleveland.
“I’m doing my job alright so I’ve got to make sure I keep doing that because it can change just like that in sports,” Hardesty said. “I’m pretty sure it’s been different so I’ve got to make sure I keep performing well and make sure I do my job well when I get in the game.”
He has had a steep mountain to climb but isn’t looking back at the last few years with regret. Instead Hardesty chooses to look forward and the opportunities that are ahead.
“I feel like everything happens for a reason,” Hardesty said. “That taught me how to go through some adversity and I feel like getting through it, nothing can stop you. When you go through some adversity everything else just comes along easily. There’s always going to be hard times when you’re trying to accomplish something.
“I feel like it’s something I had to go through and I’m tougher because of it.”
While he aspires to be a featured back someday, Hardesty is enjoying the ride the Browns are on and isn’t looking too far ahead just yet.
“I’m trying to win Sunday. That’s my focus,” Hardesty said. “I can only focus on what’s going on right now. I’m with the Cleveland Browns and want to win.
“We’re on a 3 game winning streak and we want to keep it going.”