Football fun again for Browns RB Hardesty
Browns running back Montario Hardesty was slammed down hard and got up smiling.
The thud of him hitting the sunbaked turf, a 300-pound defensive lineman crashing down upon him made Hardesty a happy man Sunday.
''I feel like a football player again,'' he said, flashing a smile seldom seen his first two years in Cleveland.
Hardesty is playing while prized rookie Trent Richardson recovers from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Aug. 9.
Coach Pat Shurmur remains hopeful that Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick, may play the season opener Sept. 9.
''Trent's getting better every day, so his progress has been outstanding,'' Shurmur said. ''He's about where we thought he'd be, probably a little bit ahead. So he'll be out here soon.''
Regarding Hardesty, the coach said: ''I haven't at all been disappointed in his performance.''
Well, except for Hardesty's costly fumble on Cleveland's first snap Thursday that led to a Green Bay touchdown.
''We can't have ball security issues,'' Shurmur said. ''He knows that. He came back after a very bad play, had some good hard runs, did a nice job on pass protection and I think he's making progress.''
Hardesty gained 45 yards on 12 carries with a 1-yard scoring run in Cleveland's 35-10 win.
The 25-year-old Hardesty is not happy that Richardson is out, but is delighted to show the Browns (No. 30 in the AP Pro32) he has recovered from even more serious surgeries on both knees.
''I came in with a plan and that was to show what I can do,'' Hardesty said. ''Every day is fun. The last two years were no fun at all.''
A second-round pick in 2010, Hardesty tore up his left knee in his first preseason game and missed the entire season. Last year, a torn right calf muscle limited him to just 266 yards on 88 carries in 10 games.
''I was miserable,'' Hardesty said. ''I'd watch film of myself and say, `That's not what I want to do.' I'd see where I was supposed to go and saw myself go somewhere else - because I couldn't get there right. I was healthy, just not really healthy. I could play, but not the way I know I can play.
''I feel stronger, quicker, more confident than any time since I've been in Cleveland.''
Shurmur sees the difference: ''This guy got himself healthy and in shape which tells me he's got some intestinal fortitude. There's some toughness there.''
It's not the first time Hardesty has had to battle back. He started just 19 games in five years at the University of Tennessee, missing time after reconstructive surgery on his right knee. He had a big senior season, averaging 103 yards with 13 touchdowns in 2009.
So after all his injury hardships, Hardesty was not about to hide after fumbling against the Packers.
''I hadn't fumbled one that bad since high school,'' he said. ''I was ready to move to the next play. I owed the team something.''
Hardesty knows the Browns have lot invested in Richardson, signed to a four-year, $20.5 million contract. He's confident he can do the job if Richardson isn't ready.
''It's a funny game,'' he said. ''You never know what is going to be thrown at you. I'm taking it all in stride because I've never had this opportunity here.
''I can't wait for the regular season to start because I am doing my job and I just love my job.''
Notes: Middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson practiced for the first time since Aug. 7. After getting a virtual sack on QB Brandon Weeden on blitz and breaking up a pass over the middle in two-minute drills, Jackson said he had a sore shoulder and his absence was just precautionary. ... TE Ben Watson, out since Aug. 3 with an undisclosed injury, took part in individual drills. ... PK Phil Dawson made a 62-yard field goal one day after backup Jeff Wolfert was released. Wolfert was 2 of 3 on field goals, including a game-winning kick of 45 yards in Detroit on Aug. 10. Shurmur said backup P Spencer Lanning could try a kick or two in Cleveland's final two preseason games. ... Shurmur was not amused, though fans laughed at a completely botched play that ended with WR Greg Little rolling around in the end zone in agony - not from injury, but embarrassment. DB Buster Skrine slipped and fell in one-on-one coverage, leaving Little wide open 30 yards behind him. The crowd gasped as Little dropped the easy toss, fell down, and berated himself.
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