BEREA — Coach Pat Shurmur vowed Monday to not let running back Montario Hardesty collect dust on the sideline again.
Hardesty carried only three times Sunday for a yard in the 27-19 win over the Colts.
“I wish we could have gotten him in the game sooner,” Shurmur said. “He needs to play. Peyton (Hillis) is a bruising type runner that needs relief at times. That’s what we’ll try to do a better job of next week.”
Hardesty had been on the field for just two snaps and hadn’t touched the ball when Shurmur called his number at the start of the fourth quarter. Hardesty replaced Hillis with the Browns at the Indianapolis 21-yard line and clinging to a 14-12 lead.
Hardesty lost a yard on his first carry, but an 11-yard pass to receiver Greg Little provided a first down at the 4. Hardesty fumbled on first down on a run up the middle, but left tackle Joe Thomas recovered. Shurmur gave him the ball again on second down from the 4, but Hardesty was stopped at the 2. After an incompletion, the Browns kicked a field goal.
Shurmur said he didn’t think he put Hardesty in a tough spot by using him inside the 5 when he was cold and has so little experience. Hardesty missed all of his rookie season in 2010 following knee surgery.
“We were in a three-receiver set and we were just running a play we’d run out around the 50. One-back power,” Shurmur said. “Regardless of where you put a player in, you don’t want him to put the ball on the ground. Fortunately we got it back. The more critical the situation, the more heightened the awareness from everybody’s standpoint.
“I feel like he’s made huge progress in training camp and for us to win over a consistent timeframe we’re going to need him. So I need to play him some.”
Shurmur is still looking for the right balance between Hillis and Hardesty. Hillis had 27 rushes for 94 yards and two touchdowns vs. the Colts. Through two games, Hillis has 44 rushes for 151 yards and Hardesty eight for 19.
“I don’t know if it means they’re each going to get the same amount of carries,” Shurmur said. “I think you always go with the runner that’s got the hot hand and Peyton’s our No. 1 back.”
Clark can’t shake Ward
Strong safety T.J. Ward had a strong game against tight end Dallas Clark, silencing those who doubted his coverage ability. Clark had four catches for 32 yards. Two of the catches for 16 yards and a touchdown came after the game had been decided.
“I’m well aware of my abilities,” Ward said after the game. “That’s the naysayers saying I can’t cover. But I knew what I could do. I know I can cover and I’m welcoming any team to challenge that.”
Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham had six catches for 58 yards and a touchdown in the opener. Ward said he gave up two of the completions, including the touchdown, and was still dealing with a hamstring he injured in training camp.
“I just had to bounce back,” he said Monday. “Not to make any excuses, but I wasn’t completely healthy that game and I just knew that I had to prove myself against one of the best tight ends.
“You compare me to any safety, and I think my cover skills are right there with some of the best. But for some reason, I guess me being a tackler, a big hitter, I can’t cover. But I never fell into that trap.”
No ordinary Joe
Thomas called his performance against Colts Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney “probably one of the best games I’ve ever played.” Shurmur and center Alex Mack agreed.
“Joe had a really great game,” Mack said. “He graded out really well. He handled one of the best pass rushers — ever.
“Coming out, he knew that this was gonna be a big week. So I think he had been preparing for this for a long time.”
Thomas was largely left alone to deal with Freeney, who only hit quarterback Colt McCoy once for a strip-sack that Thomas recovered. Shurmur took the blame for not telling McCoy to get rid of it sooner on that play.
Receiver Brian Robiskie was replaced in the starting lineup by Joshua Cribbs (opposite Mohamed Massaquoi) after opening the opener. Robiskie entered for the second and third snaps and played throughout the game, but was behind Cribbs and Little in the rotation. He doesn’t have a catch this year.
“We saw a little bit less of Brian, but he still played over 25 snaps, so he was in there quite a bit,” Shurmur said. “But I did like the way Josh, Greg and Mo all performed. I’m not down on Brian. I think he competed well.
“We’ll see how the numbers work out. But I felt like it was important to get the ball in the hands of Greg and Josh and Mo and we found a way to do that and I think we got some results from it.”
Robiskie had a key block downfield on Hillis’ touchdown run, but Shurmur doesn’t want to label him just a blocker.
“No, Brian’s a real receiver. I don’t have any problems throwing him the football,” he said.
- Defensive ends Jabaal Sheard (right to left) and Jayme Mitchell (left to right) switched sides Sunday and will stay that way, Shurmur said. Sheard, a rookie, played left end in college but was trying to make the switch to the right side. “Watching him compete, we felt like he was more effective playing on the left than he was the right,” Shurmur said.
- Shurmur didn’t declare a winner at right tackle, where Artis Hicks and Oniel Cousins split time for the second straight week in place of Tony Pashos (ankle). “They both played about the way we expected them to,” Shurmur said. “Oniel is probably bigger and more physical, and Artis probably a little quicker on his feet. Neither one of ‘em probably played much better than the other, but I feel good about the progress.”