BEREA, Ohio -- Most players wouldn't mind skipping an NFL training camp with its grueling two-a-day practices under the sweltering summer sun.
Montario Hardesty hated missing his first one.
"It was real hard," he said.
Speaking for the first time since injuring his right knee on the eve of camp, Cleveland's rookie running back said Tuesday that he's nearly ready to get back on the practice field and expects to be available when the Browns open the season on Sept. 4.
Hardesty revealed he suffered a bone bruise to his surgically repaired knee during a 1-on-1 tackling drill a few days before the club's veterans reported. Hardesty said he was not injured by any contact but when he tried to cut on the grass.
At first, he was worried he had done serious damage to his knee, which was reconstructed in 2005 after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
"You always worry when you do something like that it's going to be something big," he said. "But once I went and got an MRI, and got everything looked at to see what it was, I just had to let the bruise heal. When it's time, I'll get back out there."
Hardesty expects to practice later this week and is targeting the Browns' final exhibition game on Sept. 2 as his pro debut.
The Browns believe Hardesty, a second-round pick, can have a large role in their offense this season. They see the former Tennessee back as a perfect compliment to Jerome Harrison.
Cleveland traded a third-round pick and two fifth-round selections to Philadelphia in April to move up and select Hardesty, who rushed for 1,345 yards and 13 touchdowns last season for the Volunteers.
Although he has missed significant time, Hardesty is confident he can catch up quickly. Because he couldn't practice, Hardesty immersed himself in Cleveland's playbook to learn the offense.
"After those first couple days I knew what I had to do," he said. "I just wanted to be a student of the game and make sure I stay up on all the blocking schemes and all the assignments. It was frustrating at first, but I just focused on getting back on the field. Now I'm getting excited again."
Coach Eric Mangini said Hardesty had a good grasp of Cleveland's offense before getting hurt.
"The thing with Montario that I'm really comfortable with is he knew the system pretty well in OTAs," he said. "He's been studying it just as hard, even though he hasn't been on the field, he's been just as diligent here during training camp.
"Look, he's a rookie, but the early impression is that he is not going to need a ton of reps in order to be effective in completing his assignments just based on my exposure to him and how he's worked. I hadn't looked at the position that way where you just throw a guy in and let the instincts take over, but there's obviously a huge component to that at the running back spot."
The injury may have hurt Hardesty's knee, but not his confidence.
He almost seemed offended when asked if his goals have changed for this season.
"Not at all," he said. "I have always set high standards for myself. When I'm on the field, I'm ready to play ball so it hasn't changed things at all."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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