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Kareem Hunt ready to 'bring the fire' as he eyes return

Browns RB was designated for return from injured reserve Wednesday and hoping to play Sunday in Baltimore

Kareem Hunt missed everything.

The Browns running back didn't just miss the five games he couldn't play because of a "pretty bad" calf strain. He missed the practices. He missed the time in the weight room alongside the teammates he'd be sharing the field with on Sundays.

It was a truly unusual feeling for Hunt, who hadn't missed a game due to injury before he went down in a heap in the fourth quarter of the Browns' Week 6 loss to the Cardinals. Tears welled in Hunt's eyes as he was helped off the field because he knew the injury was serious enough to put an end to that streak, which dated back to his rookie year in 2017.

"I get ticked off when I can't be out there to help if we're not playing really well," Hunt said. "It's out of your control when you're on the couch."

Hunt's time on the couch could come to an end as soon as Sunday, when the Browns travel to Baltimore for a pivotal, primetime AFC North matchup with the Ravens. 

Hunt, along with T Jack Conklin, was designated for return from injured reserve Wednesday and participated in his first practice in more than a month. The Browns will monitor his status throughout the week and are hopeful he'll be ready to get back on the field as soon as Sunday against the Ravens.

"I'll see how I feel during the week but I'm definitely feeling like I'm going to play," Hunt said. "I always bring the fire so I'm definitely going to come with a lot of energy and fire and just the love because I missed the game."

The Browns have missed Hunt, who provides an X-factor for Cleveland's offense in tangible and intangible ways.

Hunt arguably was performing at the highest level of his career through the Browns' first five games of 2021. Teamed with Pro Bowler Nick Chubb, Hunt ran with reckless abandon both as a traditional ball-carrier and a receiver out of the backfield. He's still among the team leaders with 20 receptions for 161 yards and he averaged 5.2 yards every time he got the ball as a rusher.

The Browns have held their own with Chubb and D'Ernest Johnson, but there's no true way to replace Hunt's unique style of running and his overall skill set.

"Kareem just energy-wise and that spark he comes in with and plays with, I think that is an extremely vital part for us," QB Baker Mayfield said. "When it comes to the explosive portion of our offense, we have been missing that with him, as well. Some of the shotgun plays with him coming out of the backfield, whether it is run or pass, he is a key part of our offense."

Hunt said he always envisioned being able to return for one of the Browns' back-to-back games with the Ravens. He's hoping for the first, but that decision won't come until the end of the week.

For now, the Browns were simply thrilled to have him back on the CrossCountry Mortgage Campus practice fields for the kind of activity he'd been missing.

"I think it is great to have him out here, it was great to have him in the walkthrough and I am sure on the practice field," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "He brings energy and brings a toughness to what he does. I think it gives the guys a boost to start the day."

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