Prepare to see a lot more of Jerome Ford, the versatile second-year running back from Cincinnati, in the Browns backfield in 2023.
Ford, a fifth-round pick a year ago, is poised to enter a bigger role with the Browns behind Pro Bowl RB Nick Chubb following the free-agent departure of Kareem Hunt. As the likely No. 2 running back on the depth chart, Ford is in line to absorb some of the rushing workload and passing snaps behind Chubb — and the Browns feel confident he'll be able to transition smoothly into the job.
"Jerome's got a skillset that allows him to do anything and everything," run game coordinator/running backs coach Stump Mitchell said after mandatory minicamp. "Pass protection, we worked a lot (on that) this spring, so that was the really the only thing we didn't really have a good handle on because he didn't do it a lot in college."
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Ford's rookie season was mainly about learning how to operate his tools in the NFL. Most of his work came as a kick returner, taking back 30 returns for 723 yards and totaling a respectable average of 24.1 yards per return, which ranked sixth among players who logged 20 or more returns last season.
As a rusher, Ford took eight carries for 12 yards. Three of those carries were in Week 13 in Houston, while the other five were in Week 17 in Washington. The Browns didn't need Ford to take carries with Chubb and Hunt handling the near-entirety of the rushing workload, but that will certainly change with the way the running back depth chart appears to look now.
Ford showed plenty of promise as a rusher with the Bearcats — he rushed for 1,319 yards as a junior in 2021, the year Cincinnati became the first Group of Five school to crack the College Football Playoff. His receiving experience is a bit more limited, but he did catch 21 passes for 220 yards and one touchdown his junior season.
One thing Mitchell also noted about Ford's likely expanded role was that his kick return duties, which he was given last year because the Browns wanted to find ways to put the ball in his hands beyond rushing plays, will still be part of his job.
"He's been the No. 1 kickoff return guy during these spring practices, so I don't see that happening," Mitchell said. "I see him being the same guy."
The Browns clearly believe Ford is capable of helping in several areas, and that was also evident when GM Andrew Berry spoke about Ford at the combine in February, giving praise to the potential Ford showed as a rookie and expressing optimism that his pass-catching skills will help him take off in his season season.
"Jerome, we thought, did a nice job for us his rookie year," Berry said. "His main contributions were really within the kicking game and carved out a nice role as a really strong kick returner for us. One of the things that drew us to Jerome throughout last year's draft process is his ability in the passing game, and he will certainly have opportunities going into his second year to potentially showcase those skills on a more extended level."
Mitchell has seen Ford put in the work to ensure Berry is correct in that belief and that the opportunity doesn't go wasted.
"He's worked extremely hard," Mitchell said. "We know about his skill set with the ball in his hands."