BEREA - When Jerome Harrison ran through a hole for a big gain during practice Sunday, he looked like a man capable of being the Browns featured running back.
A few plays later, James Davis flashed the skills that made him the most impressive runner in training camp last season. Maybe he's the man for the job?
That's about the time Peyton Hillis caught a pair of short passes from Seneca Wallace and turned the corner for gains of about 40 and 35 yards. There's your guy.
The Associated Press
Cleveland Browns running back Jerome Harrison breaks out of the pack with the ball during the Browns’ training camp Sunday in Berea.
All these excellent plays were being run while rookie Montario Hardesty is resting the knee he twisted in practice last week. Before suffering that injury, Hardesty appeared to have a good chance to win the job.
What has to be coach Eric Mangini's most pleasant problem is deciding on which backs will get the majority of carries when the season starts.
Based on the way last season ended, Mangini should name Harrison the starter now. Harrison rushed for 561 yards and scored five touchdowns on 106 carries in the final three games.
Despite those impressive numbers, there are skeptics that wonder if Harrison is big enough at 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds to handle the physical demands of a 16-game season.
"I don't get tired of hearing that," Harrison said. "It's because of my size. When big running backs get hurt, it's okay; it's fine. But when a little running back gets hurt, he's injury-prone. You just laugh at stuff like that because it doesn't make any sense."
Maybe it's time to give Harrison credit for being a quality player. When he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2006 draft the same year Reggie Bush was selected second overall by the New Orleans Saints, there were some comparisons made between their rushing skills. Other than Harrison and a few of his close friends, not many football people believed those comparisons.
Fast forward four years, and it can be said that Harrison is the better runner of the two. His 561 yards in the last three games last season were 4 yards less than Bush had for the entire season. Bush has 1,940 career rushing yards compared to 1,310 for Harrison, but Bush has 565 carries to 271 for Harrison.
Harrison needs a fast start and 16 games as a workhorse to gain more respect. As of now, he's still that small guy who stood tall for three games last season.
"I don't want to say I've proven myself. I'm still not respected, but that's fine with me" Harrison said. "I have to prove it every year. Anybody can have one good game or two good games. The goal is to put it back to back to back and keep having them."
The question should be which backs will fill the spots on the depth chart behind Harrison. Davis performed well throughout his rookie camp last year, but he went down with a year-ending shoulder injury early in the season. He looks as quick and explosive as he did at times in camp last year.
Hillis, who was acquired in the trade that sent quarterback Brady Quinn to the Denver Broncos, is a hybrid - part fullback and part running back - at 250 pounds. He showed surprising speed when he turned the corner on the two passes from Wallace.
Hardesty's injury has resulted in more repetitions for Hillis.
"When anyone goes down it's always an opportunity to show people what you've got," Hillis said. "Montario is a great back and he will do some great things, and we can't wait to have him back, but until then someone has to fill the gap."
The amount of talent in the backfield can only be beneficial in the long run.
"Montario is a great running back," Harrison said. "James Davis looks good. P-Man (Hillis) looks good. We know that Chris Jennings looks good. At practice we have to take advantage of every opportunity we get because we know whoever is behind us or in front of us is a good back."