Kareem Hunt spent most of his 2021 season with the Browns in unfamiliar territory.
Hunt, entering his sixth NFL season, had never missed a game due to injury before last season. His durability was just as vital as his shifty rushing talents and reliable pass-catching skills, which the Browns depended on heavily in the first five weeks of the year — he averaged 5.36 yards per rush and scored five touchdowns in that span, which put him on an early track for one of his best seasons yet.
But in Week 6 against the Cardinals, Hunt felt his calf pop as he planted his leg running a route on a pass play. He fell to the field in pain and was carted off a few minutes later.
The calf strain forced him to miss the next five weeks, snapping a 57-game streak of not missing a game due to injury. He returned in Week 12 against Baltimore but was hurt again the next game, also against the Ravens, with an ankle injury that sidelined him the next three weeks. The Browns opted to rest Hunt and other top players the last week of the season with the playoffs out of reach.
"It was tough because I'm not used to sitting at home watching games on the couch," he said. "It was kind of a weird thing. I don't like that feeling, not being able to go out there and help the team. It was very tough."
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Hunt, a Cleveland native who spoke to the media Wednesday at his annual youth football camp at his former high school, Willoughby South, is fully recovered and ready for 2022. He participated in the Browns' mandatory minicamp and organized team activities in May and June and was back to showcasing the same explosiveness and quick-cut abilities that have made him one of the most versatile backs in the league.
"I had some time to heal this offseason," Hunt said. "I'm getting back to it. Body's feeling good and nothing's bothering me."
Injuries weren't the only new obstacle Hunt experienced last season.
Running backs coach Stump Mitchell was also not on the sidelines for the last 10 games due to multiple knee procedures. Mitchell, 63, has coached for three decades and is well-respected by the team. His absence was most noticeable in the running backs room, even though he continued to text and call the players with tips and occasionally attend practice.
Mitchell was back on a full-time basis for the offseason program. His voice was loud on the field at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus, shouting instructions to his players on the field and dishing compliments to running backs and other offensive guys for making good plays. His long, white beard that gives him a distinct look hasn't changed, either.
"Y'all don't really know this, but Coach Stump brings the juice," Hunt said. "We missed him a lot. It's funny because it didn't feel right going into meetings and not seeing Coach Stump talk to me, Nick (Chubb) and D'Ernest (Johnson) and all the guys. It was different."
In addition to Mitchell, the Browns will have a full brass of familiar faces in the running backs room when they all come back to Cleveland for the first training camp practice on July 27.
The group is led by Chubb and Hunt, but the Browns also re-signed Johnson, who stepped up when Chubb and Hunt both dealt with injuries last year, and drafted Cincinnati product Jerome Ford in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Second-year veteran Demetric Felton Jr. is listed at the position as well, although most of his work has been as a wide receiver this offseason.
Hunt has never minded a crowded position group. He's shared top duties with Chubb for the last three seasons with no complaints, and the addition of Ford will likely add another skilled player to the room.
"It's always a plus to have a lot of good running backs, even at Toledo, even at Willoughby South," Hunt said. "It's good to have extra backs who can get the job done, too."
Hunt believes the room will do just that in 2022, and he's ready to help them reach those goals now that he's back to his normal, healthy self.
"I'm just trying to do my part," he said, "come back healthy and ready to go."