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How Stump Mitchell, Kevin Stefanski balance Nick Chubb-Kareem Hunt snap loads

Kevin Stefanski knows he can't manage the workload of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt by himself.

Both backs are among the best in the NFL and can handle 20 or more carries per game. Both are capable of breaking off big runs at any moment, getting back in the huddle and doing it again. They've formed one of the best running back rooms in the NFL, but there's a methodical approach by the Browns in how they use them, and Stefanski knows he can't formulate the strategy alone every week.

Stefanski leans on Stump Mitchell, Browns run game coordinator and running backs coach, for how to map it out. 

"We are lucky to have Stump Mitchell," Stefanski said Wednesday. "Stump has a great feel for that when a guy is breaking off a couple big runs and you can keep him in there. There are other times when Stump can see him and his body language that he needs a break. That is where the next guy comes in."

Mitchell has worked with Chubb and Hunt since 2019 and coached his first season with both running backs available for the whole year in 2020, when the Browns ranked third in the NFL in rushing. Chubb and Hunt have given the Browns one of the best backfields in the league, but their weekly workload is constantly in mind for Mitchell, who receives assignments each week from Stefanski with a range of how many times he wants each player to touch the ball.

The play call is in Stefanski's hands. The choice of running back largely lies with Mitchell. He said Hunt is the Browns' third-down back, but either running back has an equal chance to play on any other down.

"I have to juggle that the entire game," Mitchell said, referring to Stefanski's carry totals. "I don't want to be over that by more than two, because then I'm going to get chewed."

Check out photos from the fifteenth day of Browns Camp at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus

To be clear, Stefanski has never "chewed" Mitchell, a 19-year coaching veteran who played 10 years in the NFL.

"I'm not yelling at Stump," he said. "Have you seen Stump? I'm not yelling at Stump."

Chubb and Hunt, though, have given the Browns plenty of other things to yell about on the sidelines — in a good way.

Big runs, goal-line touchdowns paired with stiff-arms (mostly from Chubb) and jump moves (mostly from Hunt) sent the Browns sideline ballistic several times last season, when the duo nearly became the eighth pair of teammates in NFL history to both eclipse 1,000 rushing yards in the same season.

Chubb finished at 1,067 rushing yards. Hunt finished at 841.

Mitchell believes the duo would've gotten there had Chubb not suffered a knee injury and missed four games, which lessened the total amount of carries the Browns normally utilize when both running backs are healthy. In 2021, Mitchell is putting their health first before discussing any of their individual goals.

"We have to keep both of those guys healthy," Mitchell said. "If that were the case, and if we improve some of our reads from last year, it'll happen."

Not much about the group will be different in 2021. Chubb might be listed as the starter, but everyone knows Hunt could very much be the guy who receives the first carry of the game. The Browns don't care which running back carries the ball most as long as they win.

All decisions on carry loads are strategically mapped from Mitchell and Stefanski, who proved in 2020 they can maximize a running backs room featuring two Pro Bowlers for an entire season.

Now, they're gearing up for Round 2. 

"Both of those guys have to have the opportunity to perform every play, regardless of what the play is," Mitchell said. "It doesn't matter which one of those guys are in."

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