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Notes: Nick Chubb’s role could expand to third down this season with Kareem Hunt not around

BEREA — Third down belonged to Kareem Hunt the last few years. He’d run into the huddle for the critical down, and four-time Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb would jog to the sideline.

Chubb will stay on the field this season, according to running backs coach/run game coordinator Stump Mitchell.

“He’s got more work in training camp at that role because we don’t have Kareem,” Mitchell said Sunday before practice. “So now Nick is in there on third down, as well.”

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The Browns elected not to re-sign Hunt and he remains a free agent. Chubb is the only proven commodity at running back, with Jerome Ford slotted as the No. 2 back in his second season.

Coach Kevin Stefanski spoke to reporters after Mitchell and said the third-down role has yet to be determined. He expressed confidence in Chubb and Ford.

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“Nick certainly can do it all. He’s shown that over the course of his career,” Stefanski said. “He’s been out there on third down for us. We’ll work through that. It could be Nick out there, it could be Jerome, it could be a variety of different guys. But it’s really dependent on the game plan.

“Now, having said that, you’re always comfortable with Nick. He knows who to block, how to block ’em, what routes to run, he can catch. So he’s certainly somebody we can use.”

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Chubb’s primary role has been to carry the ball — 1,525 rushing yards last year, 6,341 in his five-year career — and he’d be asked to catch the ball more and pass protect on third down.

“He’s had an opportunity to run more of those routes. Even though he did it during training camp the past three or four years, he was not that guy unless he had to be,” Mitchell said. “But now he’s going to be the first-, second- and third-down guy. When he’s tired or when Coach wants to substitute Jerome in, Jerome would go in as that one-, two-, three-down back.”

Chubb caught 27 passes last year for 239 yards, an 8.9 average and a touchdown. For his career, he has 119 catches for 990 yards, an 8.3 average and four touchdowns.

He’s not as smooth catching the ball as Hunt or Ford, but Mitchell believes Chubb has good hands and is getting better.

“He was always good at it, he never got the opportunity,” Mitchell said. “I think Nick may have dropped last year one ball, but he’s good in everything that he does and he always tries to work on all the traits that he does well and if he’s slacking in one, he tried to work to improve in that, as well.”

STEPPING IN

While Ford’s exact role is still being sorted out, he’s the clear No. 2 behind Chubb. Even if Ford isn’t the full-time third-down back, he’ll give Chubb a breather when he’s tired or overworked.

Hunt had done that since joining the team in 2019.

“It’s big shoes to fill,” Ford said. “Kareem obviously did great for us and he’s still a great running back, one of the great running backs in free agency right now.”

Stefanski believes Ford can contribute in any situation.

“He can play on any down, including third down,” Stefanski said.

VIRTUE SIGNALING

The Browns ran the ball out of the shotgun and pistol formations last year but are expected to do it more often with quarterback Deshaun Watson the starter from Week 1.

“We’re still running the same plays for the most part. And the backs can adjust to whatever position that they’re in,” Mitchell said.

Extra patience is required for Chubb to match his success from a more traditional run game.

“Sometimes he’s not as patient in the gun as he is from (under center) or from the home position, but that’s something we’re working on,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes these guys are impatient, they start cutting before they should and they don’t allow any interior linemen or the tight ends to be able to get on their block. So we’ve been working constantly on pressing our run tracks.”

INJURY REPORT

Defensive ends Isaiah Thomas and Alex Wright and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst weren’t on the practice field with undisclosed injuries.

** Cornerback Greg Newsome II (groin) worked on the side. Stefanski said he’s progressing and called the injury day-to-day.

** Tight end Harrison Bryant (undisclosed), receiver Jaelon Darden (leg), linebacker Matthew Adams (calf), safety Tanner McAlister (undisclosed) and defensive tackle Trysten Hill (hand) were also among those who worked on the side.

** Defensive end Myles Garett, left guard Joel Bitonio, Chubb and tight end David Njoku rested.

** Cornerback/special teamer Mike Ford Jr. (leg) practiced after leaving Tuesday’s session.

GO TIME

Rookie cornerback Cameron Mitchell, a fifth-round pick, is in line to make the team and be an option at nickelback following Thomas Graham Jr.’s serious ankle injury. Mitchell had a fourth-down breakup Thursday night against the Jets and an interception of Watson last week in practice.

“Great toughness. He’s a S.T.A.R.T. player for us in every imagine of the word,” cornerbacks coach Brandon Lynch said. “He’s very instinctive, he’s very aware. He’s a young guy that has very good ball production and he’s a young guy that’s going to help us inside and out.”

The Browns use S.T.A.R.T. to signify smart, tough, accountable, resilient, team guy.

EXTRA POINTS

The Browns signed cornerback Gavin Heslop and tackle Derrick Kelly II on Saturday to help with depth issues.

** Receiver Daylen Baldwin (hamstring) reverted to injured reserve when he was unclaimed after being waived with an injury designation. His agent told NFL Network he’s expected to be out for six-to-eight weeks. He could reach an injury settlement when he’s healthy, with the hope of returning to Cleveland.

** Graham also reverted to IR.

** Stefanski said he called so many screens in the Hall of Fame Game because they’re tough to practice when the rush isn’t full speed.

** Owner Jimmy Haslam talked to agent Drew Rosenhaus after practice.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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