Kareem Hunt had plenty of time on his hands during his eight-game suspension — the back nine of a nearly yearlong stretch away from the football field. It was more than enough to appreciate the running back he’ll be joining and supporting in a suddenly loaded Browns backfield.
“Nick’s a freak, man,” Hunt said Thursday, referring, of course, to Cleveland’s second-year starting running back, Nick Chubb.
“Whenever I get the opportunity and get my name called, I’m going to get in there with no letdown, no let-off. Nick’s a great back, so is Dontrell (Hilliard) … I’m excited to be back out there, too. I love the way he runs the football. I’m always cheering for him. I’m his biggest hype man.”
Hunt will be able to do that from the sidelines starting Sunday against the Bills. And maybe, just maybe, while he shares the field with Chubb, who ranks fourth in the NFL with 803 rushing yards.
The last part remains a mystery for now, but the Browns have had three weeks’ worth of practice to work with Hunt, get him up to speed with the offense and back in “football shape.” The overall wait’s been much longer than that for Hunt — 342 days, as he reminded reporters a handful of times after Thursday’s practice — after sitting out the final five games of 2018 and serving an eight-game suspension to start 2019 for off-field incidents committed while he was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.
He made it clear more than once that he’s not taking the second chance for granted. He admitted Sunday, when he’ll play in front of fans who have watched him since his days at nearby Willoughby High School, will be an “emotional game.”
“I have been counting down and I am just excited,” Hunt said. “A lot of mixed emotions, high and low. It is going to be a very fun, emotional game and I am definitely going to be excited to get out there and do whatever I can and play the role I need to help this team win.”
Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Bills Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey
Browns coach Freddie Kitchens has been asked a handful of different ways about how he plans to infuse Hunt -- a Pro Bowler as a rookie who has averaged more than 110 yards of offense per game in his NFL career -- into a Cleveland offense that has struggled to find enough consistency for regular success. He’s either provided a joke or a quip in response — the Wishbone package has been referenced more than once — or simply pointed toward Sunday as the time when it will be fully revealed.
It’s clear, though, Kitchens has been pleased with what he’s seen Hunt, who resumed practicing with the Browns after the bye week.
“I think the excitement for him to get back out on the field is warranted,” Kitchens said. “He has gone through a lot since he has been out since his last game. As a person, he has grown. As a player, he has grown, especially in our system. I expect good things from him.
“Always when you play a game, you are always borderline trying to keep your emotions intact and make sure it is passion instead of emotion. That is what we are going to try to do.”
Hunt said he’s confident he won’t have too much rust to shake off whenever he sees the field Sunday. He’s fully healed from the sports hernia surgery he underwent in August and feels much more up to speed after a couple of weeks of practice that saw him test the defense as a scout team running back.
From a bigger picture standpoint, Hunt will take the field Sunday with a deeper appreciation for the opportunity that was nearly gone for good 342 days earlier.
“I’ve been able to stay on top of things about thinking before you act, not reacting to little things and keeping your emotions to yourself. I feel like my emotions were very high last year and now I’m settled down a little bit,” Hunt said.
“It just means so much to me. I just know I really appreciate the fact I get to go out and do this every day. It made me appreciate it even more waking up and getting to go to work even though there were days in the past I didn’t like doing it. Now it’s like, ‘yeah, I get to go to work today.’ It’s a great feeling to be able to come here and train and put the grind in.”