BEREA — Stump Mitchell doesn’t need to crunch the numbers. He’s never had a doubt Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will each rush for 1,000 yards this season.
“That’s going to happen,” Mitchell, the run game coordinator/running backs coach, said Friday morning. “I knew that was going to happen before the season started. That was our goal. So that’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of what game it’s going to happen.”
Chubb has 719 rushing yards and Hunt 706 in the Browns’ 8-3 start, putting them on target to hit the milestone. But they must keep up the pace, especially Hunt, who has averaged 64.2 yards in 11 games. If he stays on that pace, he’ll finish with 1,027 yards.
Chubb has averaged 102.7 yards in seven games, putting him on schedule for 1,232 if he plays the last five. Rushing for that many yards despite missing four-plus games would be impressive.
“It doesn’t matter. That’s Nick,” Mitchell said. “He can miss four games. A thousand yards — we’re talking Nick. It doesn’t matter.
“He’s fresher now. He’s going to do what he needs to do. The offensive line is doing a heck of a job, the tight ends and the wide receivers and, of course, Coach (Kevin) Stefanski is doing a heck of a job of calling the plays. It’s just a matter of time. We’re looking now for that next win. A thousand yards will come.”
Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner both hit 1,000 for the Browns in 1985. They’re one of five running back duos in NFL history to accomplish the feat.
“I think they’ve been texting Nick and Kareem,” Mitchell said.
He’s in charge of the rotation on gamedays and tries to hit the number of carries Stefanski wants for both.
“Both of those guys are starting running backs,” Mitchell said. “We are trying to keep everybody fresh. Just their attitude makes my job a heck of a lot easier, and knowing how Coach Stefanski wants to have both of those guys fresh makes it easy, as well.
“They are interchangeable. They can do exactly the same thing as the other guy.”
If the Titans are insulted receiver KhaDarel Hodge said they aren’t a “super team,” they’ll have to take it out on someone else.
Hodge was ruled out for the game Sunday in Tennessee with a hamstring injury suffered Thursday while running a route in practice. He didn’t practice Friday.
Hodge missed four games earlier this season with a hamstring injury, and Stefanski said he believes this is the other hamstring. Hodge had come on lately with six catches for 104 yards in the last two games.
“He does give us valuable reps,” Stefanski said. “He makes plays when they come his way, a good special teams player and good in the run game.”
Hodge made headlines Monday when asked about the matchup of 8-3 teams.
“I don’t look at the Titans as like a super team or nothing,” he said. “They can get beat like anybody else. So we go into this game expecting to win and we’re expecting to do our thing, so I see this team as going deep into the playoffs, as far as we can go.”
Titans coach Mike Vrabel wasn’t offended.
“I have a lot of respect for how they play,” he told Titans reporters. “We’re certainly far from a super team. You should’ve just asked me.”
The Browns also ruled out Taywan Taylor (neck), leaving them with only three receivers on the active roster. Rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones will be the No. 3 behind Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins, and Ja’Marcus Bradley or Derrick Willies will likely be promoted from the practice squad.
Stefanski said Taylor’s injury was a “fluke thing” and wasn’t sure how much time he’ll miss.
Peoples-Jones will be asked to fill much of Hodge’s role in three-receiver sets and as a blocker in the run game.
“He is doing a nice job,” Stefanski said. “In practice, he does a nice job, knows what to do and does it at a high level. He is somebody that we can definitely count on.”
IN AND OUT
Linebacker Sione Takitaki and backup defensive end Joe Jackson were activated from the COVID-19 list and practiced.
Takitaki has eight starts in 10 games, recording 36 tackles and an interception he returned for a touchdown. He’s one of the team’s best run defenders, and Stefanski said he could “potentially” play against the Titans and running back Derrick Henry.
** Fullback Andy Janovich is “ready to go” after returning to practice this week. He missed two games after testing positive for COVID-19.
“It means a lot,” Mitchell said of his return.
** Cornerback Denzel Ward (calf) was ruled out for a second straight game.
** Backup defensive tackle Vincent Taylor (knee) and rookie backup center Nick Harris (ankle) were listed as questionable.
** For the Titans, cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (knee), tight end Jonnu Smith (knee) and tackle Isaiah Wilson (illness) were ruled out. Left guard Rodger Saffold III (ankle) and defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons (knee) were listed as questionable. Saffold didn’t practice all week, and Simmons’ only appearance was Thursday when he was limited.
Cornerback Kevin Johnson will start a second straight game on the outside in place of Ward after spending most of the season at nickelback.
“It was solid,” Johnson said of his performance against the Jaguars. “Just really looking to build next week and getting in tune with their offense, what they like to do and who they like to get the ball to X, Y and Z. Really just trying to play sharp and execute.”
Pass game coordinator/secondary coach Jeff Howard gave Johnson a passing grade.
“Challenged him a few times, and I thought he was close and pretty sticky in coverage,” he said. “There are some things that we talked about this week that we can improve upon and be in better spots, but overall I thought he did a pretty good job.”
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Right tackle Jack Conklin went from left tackle at Michigan State to right tackle as a rookie with the Titans in 2016 and has stayed there. He can relate to what rookie Jedrick Wills has been through this year, even if Willis went from right tackle at Alabama to left tackle with the Browns.
“It is definitely a hard transition moving from right to left or left to right, Conklin said. “There is a lot of learning and a lot of learning curve. It has been impressive just to see how he goes about work every day.
“Every day he is trying to get a little bit better, and you can really see it paying off. Each game he is adding something to his game and he is getting more confident. He has the right attitude and the right work ethic to be a great player in this league for a long time.”
More than 30 Browns players will participate in My Cause, My Cleats, with their shoes decorated to raise awareness for their chosen charities.
Myles Garrett will support social justice, youth education and the Dr. Maya Angelou Foundation; Austin Hooper children in foster care; Hunt STOMP Out Bullying; and Janovich military appreciation and Hunting with Soldiers.
** Stefanski said they didn’t consider separating a quarterback to make sure they all weren’t lost to the COVID reserve list after the Broncos played without a quarterback Sunday.
“We have not been meeting in the building for a long time,” he said. “We feel comfortable with what we are doing. In a lot of cases, we go beyond the protocols.”
** The coaches hope to have safety Tedric Thompson up to speed by next week after claiming him off waivers from the Chiefs on Monday. He wasn’t able to practice this week due to COVID-19 protocols but is a system fit.