Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt shared the running back job this season.
They could share the field next season.
Chubb was voted to his second straight Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,067 yards, 5.6 a carry and 12 touchdowns in the regular season despite missing four games with a sprained knee. Hunt played like the best No. 2 back in the league with 1,145 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns, giving the Browns the NFL’s only tandem with 840 rushing yards apiece.
They did it separately. The coaches put a premium on keeping both runners fresh, and Chubb and Hunt were only together on the field for about a handful of snaps despite playing 14 games together, including the two in the postseason.
Chubb expects to see more of his good friend next to him in the huddle next year.
“I learned that there is a way for us both to be on the field at the same time and there is a way for both of us to have a good year at the same time,” he said Monday. “That is the biggest thing I took from it all is that we can still be us, share the ball and have success with it. The same thing for years to come. Just for us to keep having fun and playing and winning games together.”
When Hunt returned from an eight-game suspension in 2019, then-coach Freddie Kitchens lined him up with Chubb in the backfield, sometimes as a lead blocker, and as a slot receiver. Stefanski and his offense were a huge upgrade in his first season, but he never embraced using Hunt in the slot or pairing him with Chubb behind quarterback Baker Mayfield even though the backs are two of his best playmakers.
Stefanski’s rushing attack, which ranked third this season with 148.4 yards a game, is versatile and complicated and often relies on multiple tight ends and/or a fullback. Using two tailbacks changes the math in the blocking scheme, but Stefanski seems open to getting Chubb and Hunt on the field at the same time.
“Excited about those guys,” he said. “They both had incredible moments for us this season, just thinking back to some of the runs and catches that they had that were highlight-worthy.
“Excited about them moving forward, and it is our job to grow in this offense and find more things they can do. That is part of what this offseason will be about.”
That’s music to Hunt’s ears.
“I hope so. I hope so,” he said. “Honestly, it would mean a lot. Chubb is a heckuva back and so am I. So I feel like it would definitely work. There’s a lot of things we both can do.”
Hunt said he never asked Stefanski why he didn’t try the backs together. Chubb rushed 190 times and caught 16 passes, while Hunt rushed 198 and caught 38.
“I just do what I’m told,” Hunt said. “Whatever he called, whatever he put in the game plan, that’s in the game plan.
“Any opportunity I get, I try to make the most of them because they do not come that often.”
For the first time since Hue Jackson’s second season as coach in 2017, the offensive system will be the same for a second straight year. The familiarity will allow Stefanski to expand the playbook and get more creative.
“We have the same offense to hone down and learn so I think we definitely can implement some new stuff like that to get us both in the mix at the same time,” Chubb said. “I definitely think it is possible.”
Alone or together, the duo was dynamic and instrumental in the turnaround that included the first trip to the second round of the playoffs in 26 years. Hunt missed time the previous two years as punishment for off-field altercations and played his first full season since he won the NFL rushing title as a rookie in 2017 with the Chiefs.
“It was very important,” he said. “I enjoy playing the game of football so it was nice to be out there for the full season and help lead this team to a great season.”
Hunt signed an extension in September that runs through 2022. Chubb has a year left on his rookie contract and is eligible for an extension this offseason. Both will be back in 2021, along with the starting offensive line that paved the way.
“They are two No. 1 backs in this league,” center JC Tretter said. “I think Nick is arguably the best runner in football with what he is able to do with the ball in his hands, the physicality and the speed he can run with. Kareem is so versatile as a football player, being able to run, being able to be utilized out of the backfield and utilized in the slot as receiver.
“They just let us do so much. It is nice having no real drop-off when one of them has to go out because you have another No. 1 back coming in. We are built off of the run game to start, and we need to be able to run the football to open up everything else we want to do. To have two running backs that do that so well, it is really big for our offense.”
When Tretter talks, Chubb thinks people should listen.
“I definitely appreciate that coming from JC, who is probably the smartest person in football,” he said. “He probably knows what he is talking about, I guess. I appreciate it a lot, but it is because of him and those guys up front that make it possible.”