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Browns RB Nick Chubb keeps to himself but loves thriving in a crowded backfield

In a recent survey of Browns players, Nick Chubb was a popular choice when asked who was the quietest member of the team.

If true, Chubb didn't do a very good job of keeping his name from being called -- and sometimes, shouted -- last season, starting with his 63-yard touchdown run in Week 4. Chubb burst onto the scene, taking over starting running back duties as a rookie following the Browns' Week 7 trade of veteran Carlos Hyde to Jacksonville. As with each of his long touchdown runs, he didn't look back, reaching at least 65 yards rushing in all but two of his final 10 games.

Chubb ended his rookie season with 996 yards, eight touchdowns and a firm grip on the starting running back position. That is, until the Browns added Kareem Hunt.

Hunt rushed for 2,151 yards and 15 touchdowns and caught 79 passes for 833 yards and 10 more touchdowns in his first 27 career games. He quickly vaulted into the conversation as one of the league's top dual-threat running backs before his career was abruptly halted by his off-field transgressions, which resulted in the Chiefs releasing him late in the regular season.

Given a second chance by Browns general manager John Dorsey, Hunt returns home to Northeast Ohio where he attended Willoughby South High School and the University of Toledo before launching his promising NFL career. He's a Pro Bowl-caliber player who joins a position group featuring one of the league's best rookies from last season. With Duke Johnson and Dontrell Hilliard also considered, there's a lot of talent in that room.

One might expect Chubb to feel threatened by such an addition. But he's been here before.

Chubb grew up in Cedartown, Georgia, starred at Cedartown High School, played in the U.S. Army All-American Game, earned a full ride to Georgia and in 2014 joined a program that featured future 10th overall pick Todd Gurley. He played as a true freshman anyways, starting in place of the suspended Gurley and rushing 219 times for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns in 13 games.

Then came his biggest hurdle of his life: A significant knee injury. Chubb dislocated his knee on the first play of Georgia's 2015 game against Tennessee, tearing three ligaments, sidelining him for the second half of his sophomore season and forcing him into a grueling recovery and rehabilitation process.

"That's the hardest thing I've ever been through, not only physically but mentally because of the uncertainty," Chubb said last week during Browns mandatory minicamp. "I've never been injured before, so I didn't know if it was supposed to hurt, because it hurt so bad. So I didn't know if it was supposed to feel like that, if it was supposed to be better in time. I just trusted in the process, trusted in the people around me, my strength staff, my trainers in Georgia. I trusted in them, I believed in them."

His trust was rewarded, but when he came back, he was no longer the lone guy in Athens. Georgia now featured Sony Michel, who rushed for 1,136 yards in Chubb's absence. The self-described "private" running back faced a reality in which he had to become part of a talented position group, not just a talented player owning the position on his own.

"It was a transition for me just because my freshman year, I still had guys around me but they were a little banged up themselves," Chubb said. "Sony Michel, he was hurt our freshman year, so I carried the load. The next year, I'm still the main guy but I end up getting hurt. Then I come back and I'm not as good as I think I am, because I had a very gruesome injury. It takes years just to come back from it.

"Then, Sony Michel comes out of nowhere. He's always been good but he actually started turning it on. We had some young guys that were great, too, and it just built up the competition."

Chubb regained the lead role, but the carries were split close to evenly. Chubb led the team with 224 rushes for 1,130 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016, while Michel followed close behind with 152 carries for 840 yards and four touchdowns. Brian Herrien also contributed with 63 carries for 363 yards and three touchdowns.

Chubb led the way, but this was no longer The Nick Chubb Show.

"For me, that was the first part of my life when I wasn't just the only back," Chubb recalled. "It was new to me, sharing the ball, but I think I enjoy sharing the ball more than being the only guy just because you get to play with your best friends. Sony, he's my best friend. We both had success on the field and it made it more fun. End of the day, we won games and our team was successful."

Team success is what's most important to Chubb, a player whose teammates will tell you is not worried about his stats. He broke 1,000 rushing yards as a rookie, then lost 4 yards and time expired on the season before he could gain them back, sticking him at 996 for the year. He wasn't upset about it, according to his teammates.

That same mindset helped Georgia to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Chubb's fourth and final season with the Bulldogs. Georgia trotted out a backfield medusa with Chubb, Michel and Herrien joined by freshman sensation D'Andre Swift and sophomore standout Elijah Holyfield. The group produced truly unbelievable rushing numbers: 3,748 yards and 37 touchdowns on 571 carries.

Chubb paced the group with 1,345 yards and 15 touchdowns on 223 carries. Again, Michel was right behind him with 1,227 yards and 16 touchdowns on 156 carries. The group was so potent, it even took down Oklahoma's high-powered offense -- quarterbacked by future Browns teammate Baker Mayfield -- in a Rose Bowl shootout that finished with a final score of 54-48.

When it came time for the Georgia backfield to go pro, though, Michel went before Chubb. And when Chubb arrived in Cleveland, he wasn't expected to make a major impact, having joined a backfield that featured a fellow new arrival in Hyde.

All of that changed when Chubb grabbed the attention of the NFL with that touchdown run in Oakland.

"It felt good. It was a long time coming," Chubb said of his 63-yard score in the 48-45 overtime loss to the Raiders. "Just a bunch of hard work, bunch of patience. I finally got my opportunity and I made the most of it. That just shows everybody that when your number is called, you have to be ready. You have to show what you can do because you only get so many opportunities."

His opportunities will again arrive in 2019, though they might look different at times. Anyone who's had a chance to observe Browns offseason activities will notice Chubb has been doing something he's rarely been tasked with completing before: catching passes. It's the last ball-moving part of his game to be developed, and one he's worked on plenty in the last month. The results are noticeable and could become very important with Hunt slated to miss the Browns' first eight games due to suspension.

When Hunt returns, though, the backfield will become deeper, the potential greater, and the situation perhaps more familiar to Chubb. Again, he won't be the lone guy -- but he will be a guy, and an important one. If he can become a consistent threat in the passing game, Cleveland's offense will only benefit more.

"It does help," Chubb said of having a deep, versatile backfield. "It throws your opponents off because they have no idea what's coming. So I mean, if I'm in, maybe something happens and if it's somebody else -- defense is all about adjusting. As much as we can to make them re-adjust and question themselves, it helps out our offense."

Chubb will assume the lead role from the beginning of the season, and welcome back Hunt after his suspension. He'll also likely be cracking jokes with his teammates along with way. In a recent group discussion, Hilliard was the first to out Chubb as someone who isn't quiet, just guarded. He keeps a small circle, a notion to which Chubb responded with a nod and slight smile.

Hilliard and Johnson are projected to spell Chubb in the first half of the season. And while many of his teammates will continue to see Chubb as a quiet worker, his fellow running backs know better.

Should history repeat itself, those watching him won't remain quiet for long, either.