He won't be out there again this season.
Hardesty tore his left anterior cruciate ligament during his NFL debut Thursday night and will be out for the year, a cruel twist for the second-round draft pick, whose football career has been slowed by serious knee injuries.
After missing all of training camp with a bone bruise in his right knee, Hardesty was finally in the backfield for the Browns' preseason finale against the Chicago Bears. Cleveland was eager for a good look at the powerful 23-year-old before the Sept. 12 season opener at Tampa Bay, and Hardesty didn't disappoint by running for 23 yards and one touchdown on his first six carries.
However, Hardesty's seventh carry was his last in 2010.
Taking a handoff from rookie quarterback Colt McCoy, Hardesty picked up 2 yards on the left side before being tackled. It seemed to be a routine play, but Hardesty didn't get up, and his face couldn't hide his fear or disappointment as trainers worked on his left leg.
Hardesty left Browns Stadium on crutches, and an MRI confirmed the torn ACL -- the same injury he suffered as a freshman in 2005 at the University of Tennessee.
"We are all very disappointed for Montario," Browns coach Eric Mangini said in a statement released by the team. "He's worked extremely hard since he was drafted, he's done everything we've asked him to do, and I'm sure he will be just as diligent with his rehab. It's unfortunate, but it opens the door for other guys to step up and contribute."
The Browns knew there was a risk in Hardesty playing without much practice time, but after talking it over with team president Mike Holmgren, Mangini believed it was important to give the rookie carries with the season opener approaching.
"It's a tough decision," Mangini said following Thursday's 13-10 victory over the Bears. "You want to be able to see a guy, you want to make sure that he's prepared to play in the opener and do the things that he needs to do. You're also concerned about the volume of work he's been able to have up to that point.
"As we talked about it, we decided that this was going to be his last opportunity to get that work, so we thought it was the best idea to do that."
Despite Hardesty's history of injuries, the Browns traded a third-round pick and two fifth-round selections to the Philadelphia Eagles to move up into the second round and select him at No. 59 overall. He was so impressive during the Browns' offseason minicamp that the team was confident Hardesty could start in his first year as a pro. But he hurt his right knee during a 1-on-1 tackling drill in the week leading up to the opening of camp and only recently returned to practice.
With Hardesty no longer an option, Jerome Harrison likely will be Cleveland's starter, with Peyton Hillis and James Davis also in the running-back rotation.
Harrison had a breakout 2009, rushing for 561 yards in his final three games and gaining 286 -- third-most in NFL history -- against the Kansas City Chiefs. But there are questions about the 5-foot-9, 205-pound Harrison's durability over 16 games, which is why the Browns were so excited about Hardesty, who rushed for 1,345 yards last year at Tennessee.
Davis showed some potential in two games last season as a rookie, but a shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve. On Thursday, he picked up 66 yards on 15 carries and added 53 receiving yards on five catches.
It's possible the Browns will try to sign another running back as teams begin trimming their rosters to the mandatory 53 by 6 p.m. ET Saturday.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press