Backfield strategy for Browns: Ride the hot hand

The Sports Xchange

June 22, 2018 at 10:49 am.

Jun 12, 2018; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Carlos Hyde (34) runs a drill during minicamp at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 12, 2018; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Carlos Hyde (34) runs a drill during minicamp at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns overhauled their roster in the offseason and one of the biggest areas of change was in the running game.

Isaiah Crowell, who started all 32 games and led the team in rushing the past two seasons, was allowed to leave via free agency — a void the Browns filled by signing free agent Carlos Hyde.

Cleveland also used its second-round pick to select rookie Nick Chubb out of the University of Georgia, creating a logjam in a backfield that also includes Duke Johnson.

Browns running backs coach Freddie Kitchens is not concerned about how to divvy up the workload among the running backs. Instead, views the glut of talent as a nice problem to have.

“Ultimately, all three of those guys can run our running game,” Kitchens told the team’s official website. “Duke can do a few more things in the passing game. Ultimately, we feel like that is a position of strength. Coach (Bill) Parcells taught me a long time ago, do not turn a position of strength into a weakness.

“You would like to keep it a strength, and we are fortunate that is where we are.”

Kitchens said his strategy for doling out carries will be simple: He plans the ride the “hot hand” from one week to another.

“If they are having success, why would you change?” asked Kitchens.

Hyde and Johnson already have a track record of success in the NFL, although the latter has carved out more of a role as one of the league’s top pass-catching running backs.

Despite the moves to fortify the ground game with the acquisitions of Hyde and Chubb, Cleveland signed Johnson to a three-year contract extension worth a reported $15.6 million earlier this month.

Although he had a career-high four rushing touchdowns in 2017, Johnson also established a personal best with 74 receptions for 693 yards and three scores.

“Duke has done some great things for our offensive football team,” head coach Hue Jackson told the team’s website. “We expect him to do even more this year.”

Hyde, a second-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2014 following a stellar career at Ohio State, has had problems staying healthy but did appear in all 16 games in his career for the first time in 2017.

Similar to Crowell, the 230-pound Hyde provides a physical presence but he provides an added dimension with his receiving skills, posting a career-high 59 catches last season.

“We know that he is a bruiser once the pads come on,” said quarterback Tyrod Taylor, acquired in an offseason trade with the Buffalo Bills. “Something that I have been impressed with is his catching ability. I did not really know much about Carlos before he came here. I played against him one time in Buffalo.

“To see him catch the ball out of the backfield and him run routes is definitely something that was shocking to me. He looks very good at it. Looking forward to using him.”

Chubb, who was selected with the No. 35 pick overall, arrived in Cleveland with much fanfare despite splitting time with Sony Michel — a first-round pick of the New England Patriots — at Georgia, which reached the national championship game last season.

The 5-foot-10, 225-pound Chubb rushed for 4,769 yards with 44 touchdowns in four seasons with Georgia, averaging 6.3 yards per carry for his career. He amassed 1,345 rushing yards and scored a career-high 15 touchdowns in 2017.

“I think the one thing that we liked about Nick during the evaluation process, during his interviews and during the draft process, he is all business,” said Kitchens. “He has a great work ethic. He is physical in everything that he does. He will take a handoff, and the handoff is violent.

“I think that is a very unique perspective from a running back standpoint that everything he does is violent. I think that he brings that to the table.”