Thursday, November 24, 2011
Wake-up call: Hardesty to start if healthy
By Jamison Hensley
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the AFC North family. As always, here's your AFC North wake-up call:
Running back Montario Hardesty will start Sunday if he’s able to play, Browns coach Pat Shurmur said, via the Akron Beacon-Journal.
Hardesty has been sidelined since suffering a torn calf muscle in his right left on Oct. 30. Hardesty participated in team drills for the first time, although he was listed as limited participation.
"If Montario can go, he’ll start," Shurmur said, "but you’ll see Chris Ogbonnaya in there quite a bit.”
Hardesty and Ogbonnaya would be the top two running backs because Peyton Hillis (hamstring) has already been ruled out.
Hensley's slant: There's growing support to start Ogbonnaya because he's rushed for 205 yards the past two games. At this point, there really is no decision. Hardesty, a second-round pick, is feature-back material and Ogbonnaya isn't. Maybe both will convince me otherwise over the next couple of weeks. But the Browns are 4-6 and need to find out whether Hardesty can be the top back next year. Ogbonnaya might be a nice fit as the third-down back.
BENGALS: Wide receiver A.J. Green (knee injury) told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he did have significant improvement but was unsure of his status for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns. “It’s pretty tough not being out there and being able to help my team out,” Green told the paper. “But that comes with football. I’m just going to try to get healthy.” Hensley's slant: The Bengals had more than 400 yards of total offense without Green last Sunday, but there's no doubt that they're a better team with him in the lineup. Personally, I really want Green to get out there so we get to see Round 2 between him and Browns cornerback Joe Haden.
RAVENS: Head coach John Harbaugh said he remains unsure whether linebacker Ray Lewis (toe) will play tonight against San Francisco. He is officially listed as questionable. Asked today about his expectations for Lewis on Thanksgiving night, Harbaugh said via the Baltimore Sun, "None that I would share. I really don’t know. It’s not like we’ve got some secret that we’re holding back from anybody on any of these guys. We’ve got three, four, five guys that are up in the air. Our biggest issue right now is nicks and bumps and bruises." Hensley's slant: Just get the feeling that Lewis is going to play. The national spotlight has a tendency to bring out the best in him. If he does suit up, Lewis will need to be ready for a physical matchup against 49ers running back Frank Gore.
STEELERS: Left guard Chris Kemoeatu, the Steelers' highest paid offensive lineman, has been benched in favor of Doug Legursky, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Kemoeatu said his coaches told him the demotion came because of poor performance recently. Hensley's slant: This isn't really that much of a surprise because Kemoeatu has been the Steelers' worst lineman recently. The offensive line has rebounded nicely with the play of left tackle Max Starks, center Maurkice Pouncey, right guard Ramon Foster and right tackle Marcus Gilbert. Legursky is a dependable backup, but he isn't the long-term answer there.