Obviously, there is a disparity there in the number of carries each back is receiving. One of the goals for this season was to reduce Hillis’ carries when possible to keep him healthy as the season wears on. Hardesty is considered a viable backup for Hillis – even a fantasy football sleeper in some crowds – but has yet to get into a rhythm in 2011. In two games, Hardesty has only eight carries for 19 yards.
Granted, he is coming off major knee surgery, but there are no signs that the Browns want to be particularly cautious with the young running back. Head coach Pat Shurmur has even admitted that he made a mistake by not playing Hardesty sooner in the 27-19 victory over the Colts.
While Hillis is one of the Browns’ best offensive weapons, it would be in their best interest to lighten up on his carries when possible, not only to keep him healthy, but to see what they have in Hardesty. Before Hillis burst onto the scene in 2010, and before Hardesty blew out his knee in that preseason, the rookie out of Tennessee was deemed a potential starter for the Browns. Developing that potential and operating a successful two-back rotation will do wonders for the Browns offense, paying bigger dividends later in the season.
Shurmur will also have to experiment in finding the best opportunities to bring Hardesty into games. He started that on Sunday, putting Hardesty in at the goal line, only to see him get stuffed. It was worth a shot, but it’s hard to believe anyone but Hillis taking the carries that close to the end zone.
Hardesty’s place in the running back rotation will likely be sorted out soon. It might come in the form of him being a third-down back, or in formations that find both Hillis and Hardesty on the field at the same time. Either way, the Browns need Hardesty to produce to keep the offense running smoothly.