Where some might see a potential logjam, Browns running backs coach Freddie Kitchens sees a major opportunity.
With the free agent signing of Carlos Hyde, the drafting of Nick Chubb and return of Duke Johnson Jr., Cleveland boasts three running backs who are expected to play a major role in the team’s 2018 offense. When the season unfolds, Kitchens said he plans to ride the “hot hand” because “if they are having success, why would you change?”
“Ultimately, all three of those guys can run our running game,” Kitchens said. “Duke can do a few more things in the passing game. Ultimately, we feel like that is a position of strength. Coach (Bill) Parcells taught me a long time ago, do not turn a position of strength into a weakness. You would like to keep it a strength, and we are fortunate that is where we are.”
Hyde, who spent his first four NFL seasons in San Francisco, carries the most experience and is coming off his best year as a pro. He started all 16 games, ran for 938 yards, found the end zone eight times and caught more passes (59) than he did in his first three years combined.
Browns coach Hue Jackson identified Hyde as a “great surprise” when it came to who has emerged as leaders on offense.
“We know that he is a bruiser once the pads come on,” quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. “Something that I have been impressed with is his catching ability. I did not really know much about Carlos before he came here. I played against him one time in Buffalo. To see him catch the ball out of the backfield and him run routes is definitely something that was shocking to me. He looks very good at it. Looking forward to using him.”
The same type of praise from players and coaches has been doled Chubb’s way, too.
The second-round rookie has impressed Kitchens with the “violence” he shows in just about everything required at the running back position. The former Georgia star ran hard throughout OTAs and minicamp, breaking off a handful of big runs and flashing sure hands in the passing game -- something he wasn’t asked to handle much while in college.
This is exactly what Kitchens expected when the Browns landed Chubb with the 35th overall selection.
“I think the one thing that we liked about Nick during the evaluation process, during his interviews and during the draft process, he is all business,” Kitchens said. “He has a great work ethic. He is physical in everything that he does. He will take a handoff, and the handoff is violent. I think that is a very unique perspective from a running back standpoint that everything he does is violent. I think that he brings that to the table.”
The Browns have made it clear they value what Johnson brings to the table. The fourth-year veteran recently signed a contract extension is expected to fill the same, versatile role he had in 2017, when he caught more than double the passes of anyone else (74) for a team-high 693 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 348 yards and four scores.
“Duke has done some great things for our offensive football team,” Jackson said. “We expect him to do even more this year.”