Browns Mailbag

Browns Mailbag: How can Browns get the most out of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt?

It's a sunny Friday in Northeast Ohio, and we're sending you into the weekend with answers to four of your most pressing questions.

Do you foresee any "wildcat" with Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and maybe another elusive back who can throw back there? Could be a new wrinkle and dangerous for defenses in the right situation. — Robert H., Tallahassee

I'm a "never say never" kind of guy, so that will be my official answer to this question. For what it's worth, neither Hunt nor Chubb have ever attempted a pass since entering the NFL, and the Vikings, while coordinated by Kevin Stefanski last season, did not have any of their running backs throw a pass. (WR Stefon Diggs was 0-for-1 on the season). 

Regardless, it's becoming a little bit clearer what the Browns have in store for Chubb and Hunt. This will be their first full season together, and Stefanski is coming off a season in which Minnesota was one of just a handful of teams that attempted more runs than passes. Based on Hunt's recent interview on Cleveland Browns Daily, it's looking like the setup will differ a bit from last year's, when Hunt largely made his impact as a blocker and pass-catcher. He averaged just a shade over five rushing attempts per game.

"They see me as a running back, not like a gadget type guy," Hunt said. "A running back in a 1-2 (punch), and I respect that."

Chubb finished third in the NFL with 298 carries in 2019. If Hunt is deployed more often as a runner, Chubb's total likely will decrease. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as the Browns hope to get the most out of their various weapons while not over-extending them. Both Hunt and Chubb have proven dangerous as runners and pass-catchers throughout their careers. Cleveland is keeping all of its options open as it assesses how its talented pair of running backs will complement an offensive skill position group that also features Pro Bowlers at tight end and wide receiver.

"We have to find a way to put the best players on the field and the matchups that will come with that each week, and it will change weekly," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "Kareem is an extremely talented runner as a running back, and he is exceptional out of the backfield, as well. He is fearless, and the selflessness of him blocking and lead blocking, he is just a football player who loves to play. We have to find ways to get him the ball."

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I think that in 2019 the Browns offense clicked during the first drives of the game when plays were "scripted" and then struggled to find consistency once the script ended. Do you think the Browns can sustain consistency in play-calling in 2020, and what role do you think Coach Stefanski will have in calling plays? — Brooks P., Cincinnati

Your assessment on the 2019 Browns offense is a fair one. The Browns scored a touchdown with ease on their first drive of the season before struggling with consistency through the rest of the game. That seemed to occur on a number of other occasions, especially during the second half of the season, and it's one of the reasons why the team didn't meet its expectations.

The goal in 2020, of course, is to be a more consistent attack. That goes without saying. The optimism is certainly there.

"Scheme-wise with him establishing the run, everything he did in Minnesota and what that does for the rest of the game and opening it up in the play action, the pass game and also just controlling the clock, they were a very efficient team for the last few years," quarterback Baker Mayfield said in a recent interview. "That is kudos to him."

As for the play-calling responsibilities, that has yet to be decided. Stefanski has said in the past he will have no issue handing those off to Van Pelt if it's in the best interest of the team. Van Pelt said the topic hasn't been discussed during the team's offseason program.

"I think it is still a fluid situation," Van Pelt said. "Until we get together and feel more comfortable with each other, and him with me more so, on the field in live action when there is no script and you are just calling offense against the defense, ultimately, until he feels comfortable with that, I think we are in the same spot as we have been."

With JoJo Natson signed as a free agent and the drafting of Donovan Peoples-Jones, where do you see these guys fitting on special teams and as backup receivers? — Traci M., Caspar

Both players will be in the mix for playing time at both of the spots you're mentioning. Natson has been exclusively a special teams weapon the past two years and has thrived as one of the league's most consistent punt and kick returners. Peoples-Jones was an electric punt returner at Michigan but made his biggest impact as a wide receiver. Opportunities abound at all of these positions, as the Browns are looking to be more dynamic in the return game and also have a need at wide receiver behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.

The Browns finally addressed the offensive line but did they go deep enough in the depth charts for some good backups? — Joe L., Lake Tapps, Washington

I believe so. I consider it a luxury to have multiple backup options at tackle (Chris Hubbard and Kendall Lamm) who have logged full seasons as starters in the past. I also think the Browns have sufficiently addressed the center position behind JC Tretter with the offseason signing of Evan Brown and drafting of Nick Harris. There are a bevy of options at right guard, and whoever finishes second in that battle will be expected to provide versatile depth on the interior.

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