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2011 Position Review: Running Back

Posted Jan 11, 2012

Chris Ogbonnaya emerged as a productive player after the Browns suffered a rash of injuries at the running back spot.

Overview:

The Cleveland Browns came into training camp in 2011 with five running backs on the roster and only two of those originals finished the season in an orange and brown uniform, as the injury bug bit the team early and continued to plague the players in various ways throughout the season.

Running back Brandon Jackson was one of just three free agents the Browns signed from other teams in 2011. Jackson, who ran for 703 yards and three touchdowns and caught 43 passes for 342 yards and one score for the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers last fall, suffered a toe injury that cost him the entire 2011 season.

Then, three weeks into the regular season, Peyton Hillis missed the Browns’ 17-16 win over the Miami Dolphins with strep throat. Second-year Brown Montario Hardesty rushed for 67 yards on 14 carries in Hillis’ place.

Three weeks after battling strep throat, Hillis suffered a hamstring injury early in the Browns’ 24-17 loss at the Oakland Raiders. Hillis missed the next five games, three of which came after he tried to practice and re-aggravated the hamstring injury.

Hardesty rushed for a career-high 95 yards in a 6-3 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 23, but gained just six yards in a loss at San Francisco one week later. Hardesty was hampered by a calf injury that forced him to miss much of the rest of the season.

In the absence of Hillis and Hardesty, Chris Ogbonnaya started four games for the Browns and had the team’s first 100-yard rushing effort of the season. Just over a month after being signed by the Browns from Houston’s practice squad, Ogbonnaya rushed for 115 yards and his first NFL touchdown in a 14-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Although they missed time due to injury, Hillis and Hardesty returned to the Browns lineup and each finished the year on the active roster.

Outstanding Performer:

Chris Ogbonnaya.

Ogbonnaya’s season started on the Texans’ practice squad and he later played in two games for Houston. He was waived on Oct. 12 and added back to the practice squad prior to signing with the Browns.

Despite having to learn a new scheme after coming over to the Browns, Ogbonnaya finished as the team’s second-leading rusher with 334 yards and one touchdown on 73 carries. He started four games and ran for 90 yards against the St. Louis Rams, one week prior to gaining the 115 against Jacksonville.

In addition to being a player that could get to the edge in the running game, Ogbonnaya proved to be a threat when the Browns passed the football. He led all Browns running backs with 23 receptions for 165 yards out of the backfield.

Key Number:

Twelve.

The combined amount of games missed by Hillis and Hardesty due to hamstring and calf injuries. Hillis started 14 of the 16 games in which he played during the 2010 season.

What To Watch For:

How healthy the Browns can stay at running back during the 2012 season.

When Hillis was healthy in 2010, he ran for a career-high 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught the second-most passes, 61 for 477 yards and two touchdowns before gracing the cover of NFL Madden 12, the latest edition of the popular video game series.

Hillis ran for just 587 yards and three touchdowns on 161 carries in 2011.

As a rookie, Hardesty was unable to participate in training camp due to an injury and missed the entire year after being placed on injured reserve following the team’s final preseason game on Sept. 2, 2010. Hardesty has missed 22 of a possible 32 regular season games since the Browns took him in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

When he was healthy, Hardesty gained 2,391 yards and scored 26 touchdowns at Tennessee.

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