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Freddie Kitchens says it's too early to make assumptions about Browns' talented, 3-man backfield

PHOENIX -- When one scans the Browns' roster and turns the page to the offense, the running back position often raises an eyebrow.

No, it's not because the team is lacking in the backfield. It's because there's a lotof talent there.

Nick Chubb's breakout rookie season leads the way for the group, while Duke Johnson lingers as a versatile option who can do equal damage in the passing game. And there's also new addition Kareem Hunt.

Hunt's path to the Browns has been well-documented, and it received its fair share of questions Tuesday during the AFC-NFC Coaches Breakfast at the Arizona Biltmore. Browns coach Freddie Kitchens emphasized Hunt, who is suspended for the first eight games of the 2019 season, is on the road to becoming a better person, which takes priority over football.

The improvement for Hunt continues through the offseason, which will also include gaining the support of his new teammates.

Take a look at photos of three of the newest Browns: tight end Demetrius Harris, offensive lineman Eric Kush and linebacker Adarius Taylor.

"If there's a silver lining in that, Kareem will get to be around his teammates up until (his suspension begins)," Kitchens said. "So for us that's crucial because we want to immerse him into the team. He's immersed himself into Cleveland. He's trying to become a better person, and I'm happy as hell for Kareem in the advancements he's done according to that.

"He's doing what he should be doing. He's doing what he needs to be doing as a person. Block football out of it. Again, I told you guys this before, take football out of the equation. Our goal, me as a coach, and us as the Cleveland Browns is to support Kareem Hunt as the person. We'll worry about the football later. We'll teach him what to do, all that kind of stuff.

"I'm not worried about the time that he misses. I want him to continue to improve as a person because 30 years from now when football's done, that's all he's going to have. The same with Odell. The same with every player we have. I want to grow them as people just as much as I want to grow them as football players, and that's not lip service."

Hunt's growth includes community work, which Browns general manager John Dorsey said Monday he was doing as recently as last week. And eventually, it will again include football, where he'll join Chubb and Johnson in a running backs room stuffed with ability.

Some have thought that ability might be too much for one team to hold. After all, there are only so many offensive plays per game. Hunt will be able to participate in all of training camp and preseason before his suspension takes effect. This anticipated absence creates an interesting wrinkle in how the Browns will handle Hunt's involvement in preseason activities.

Kitchens isn't there yet with the running back because it's still March.

"I really haven't even thought about that part yet. I'm not being facetious," Kitchens said. "I just haven't thought about that. We want to make Kareem Hunt the best person he can be and support him in that area. I'll reiterate that's what we are about, that's what I'm about as a coach. I want the person to be a better player, a better person before we ever even start talking about the player because 30 years from now you see it all the time 30 years from now that's all he's going to have is him as a person, not football anymore."

With Hunt's suspension keeping him out through the first eight weeks of the season, the Browns will be down to their two-headed backfield from last season. That won't be true forever, though, and some have seen that as an indicator that Johnson could be headed out via trade.

Kitchens strongly disputed such a thought.

"We're not into all that kind of stuff," Kitchens said. "I don't know why it's assumed … I don't know why it's assumed that we're going to trade Duke Johnson. I don't know why we would ever want to, like, just voluntarily give up a good football player. Duke Johnson is a good football player. Duke Johnson will have a role on our football team. All these guys that are here will have a role. I don't know when it just became a necessity to trade Duke Johnson because we signed Kareem Hunt. And I know I've heard that a lot. I just don't respond to it until somebody asks me. I don't know why we would voluntarily do that."

He raises a good point. For a team and leadership group that repeatedly emphasizes a focus on adding quality football players for the sake of competition, they have three currently on the roster. No need to pare it down if it isn't required.

There's also the recent history, though, of the Brown shipping out Carlos Hyde after just six weeks thanks to the emergence of Chubb. The trade seemed to clear the way for the rookie to find success.

Kitchens offered a different, enlightening take on that move.

"You've got a great point and here's what I would say to that: Carlos Hyde did more for our football team than people realize," Kitchens said. "At the time we signed Carlos Hyde, he was the glue to help bring guys together and Carlos Hyde did a tremendous job of that. Carlos Hyde didn't always have the results on the field because of different things, some of them out of his control. But what I would say about that is, Carlos and Nick are closer comparisons to the type than the other three are."

Perhaps the two situations are apples to oranges, and the three backs can coexist on the same roster. It wasn't too long ago that the New York Giants won a Super Bowl with a three-man backfield of Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward. Plus, Johnson is somewhat of a veteran on this young roster and could offer wisdom for his younger backfield mates. Kitchens seemed to think their presence and the ensuing battles will be beneficial.

"Nick Chubb welcomes the competition," Kitchens said. "Nick Chubb is what you want as a player on your football team. And he welcomes the competition. And he's excited about it. And let me tell you something: Nick Chubb can help Kareem Hunt."