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Five things on the Browns backfield

By DAN LABBE • Jun 29, 2018 at 12:00 PM

BEREA — How many times have you been able to say this about a Browns position group in recent years?

"Ultimately, it comes down to we feel like that's a position of strength," running backs coach Freddie Kitchens said at the close of minicamp, "and Coach (Bill) Parcells taught me a long time ago that don't ever turn a position of strength into a weakness."

After the Browns signed Duke Johnson to a contract extension, I wrote that there is no such thing as too many weapons for this team. There is also no one way to run an NFL offense or deploy running backs.

Here's what you need to know about the Browns' current running back room:

1. Haley isn't worried about spreading the wealth

The Browns offensive coordinator pointed out at the end of minicamp that he has handled running backs in different ways over the course of his career. Most recently he had Le'Veon Bell, perhaps the best all-around running back in the league.

"We led the league in rushing in Kansas City (in 2010) in a two-back, almost a two-and-a-half back system," Haley said. "Then in Pittsburgh obviously, when Le'Veon Bell was playing, he was playing."

It's no surprise that Haley gave Bell 321 carries last season to go with his 85 receptions. James Conner was second on that Steelers team with 32 carries.

As for the 2010 Chiefs, Thomas Jones carried the ball 245 times and fantasy football stud Jamaal Charles logged 230 carries. Charles added 45 catches.

Few teams possess bellcow backs anymore. The Browns are no different. They will find carries.

2. They will ride the hot hand

If Carlos Hyde comes out Week 1 against Pittsburgh and is eating up yardage, expect the Browns to keep riding him. If it's Nick Chubb in Week 2, the Browns can keep going with him -- or maybe a particular matchup will call for more of Duke Johnson's versatility.

"If they're having success, why would you change?" Kitchens said. "It may be somebody different week-to-week."

There's always a chance that a particular running back could get unhappy over time if he's feeling neglected. Isaiah Crowell was always good for an interview or two each season regarding his touches and finding a rhythm. Assuming all parties involved, though, are willing, the Browns have the ability to play the matchup game week-to-week and even drive-to-drive.

"That will really be determined by those guys, what they are capable of handling on a down-in, down-out basis and really who gives us the best chance to win," Haley said.

3. Chubb plays with violence

The Browns' two main runners, Hyde and Chubb, look the part of big, physical runners. We've seen that displayed on the field, too, with Hyde in San Francisco and Chubb at Georgia.

Chubb, in particular, impressed during spring practices and Kitchens pointed to his violence when running as something that has stood out.

"He's physical in everything he does," Kitchens said. "He'll take a handoff and the handoff is violent and I think that's a very unique perspective from a running back standpoint when everything that they do is violent."

It goes hand-in-hand with what head coach Hue Jackson said about Chubb shortly after the Browns drafted him.

"I see an AFC North back is what I see," Jackson said. "I see a guy that is very physical, very tough. He can create runs on his own."

Too often we can get caught up in the AFC North, Cleveland-as-a-blue-collar-team lore, but, hey, it's early summer.

"The one thing we liked about Nick during the evaluation process, during his drillwork, his interviews, he's all business," Kitchens said.

4. It can't just be Duke doing the catching

Johnson will line up all over the field and have an impact in the passing game. Hyde and Chubb, though, need to have at least some receiving impact in order to keep the running game and their quarterback effective.

Kitchens complimented the hands of both backs after minicamp and Hyde is coming off of his best season catching the ball. He had 59 receptions in 2017. That's the good news. The bad news is that only eight went for 10 or more yards and none went for more than 20.

Chubb, meanwhile, caught just nine passes during his final two seasons at Georgia.

"We've got to get them to the point where they can get open more and that just comes with repetition and them actually doing it," Kitchens said. "Nick wasn't asked to do a lot of that in college. They had another guy there that filled that role a little bit more and Carlos hadn't been asked to do that much."

The bulk of the receiving work will be done by Johnson, the tight ends and an upgraded receiving corps. Hyde and Chubb will be needed at some point, though.

"Those guys are going to be asked to run the ball, of course, pass protect is going to be huge and catch the ball when they're needed," Kitchens said.

5. Hyde and Chubb are similar

At least from a measurable standpoint, the two really are close, especially if you compare Chubb with Hyde coming out of the draft. Hyde measured at 6-feet, 230 pounds with 32-inch arms and 9 and 5/8-inch hands in 2014, according to mockdraftable.com. Chubb, this year, measured 5-foot-10 7/8, 227 pounds with 32-inch arms and 9 and 5/8-inch hands.

Chubb beat Hyde from a testing standpoint across the board.

Kitchens sees the similarities.

"I think their vision equates equally, the same type vision, the same type running style," he said, "from the standpoint of they've got great feet, they can take a hole from this A-gap to the next A-gap with one jump cut and the way they finish their runs, I think, is critical in the NFL in general and I think they're equal to that."

What this means for Chubb is that he has some time. Running back is a position where a rookie can make an instant impact, but there's no rush for Chubb to take the ball Week 1 and run with it (all those puns intended, FYI). It's never a bad thing for a player to have to earn his job.

It also means that, potentially, there will be little dropoff going from one back to the other. The Browns have two capable runners this season and can make a decision next offseason about coming back with the same backfield or fully committing to their second-round pick if he proves capable.

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