Duke Johnson Jr. is disgruntled and rightly so.
Johnson — a third down specialist for the Browns — requested a trade after Kareem Hunt was picked up in the offseason, seeing his role in the offensive shrinking to an insignificant size. He hasn’t attended any offseason activities with the team.
But despite the trade request, Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens said he expects Johnson to be at camp “because it’s mandatory.”
Hunt is suspended for the first eight games of the season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The former Kansas City Pro Bowl back, was previously placed on the commissioner’s exempt list last fall following news that he was involved in an altercation with a woman at a Cleveland hotel.
That makes Johnson No. 2 on the depth chart, at least for the time being, and an important member of the offense.
“I don’t know why it’s assumed that we’re going to trade Duke Johnson,” Kitchens said, via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com in March. “I don’t know why we would ever want to voluntarily give up a good football player. Duke Johnson is a good football player. Duke Johnson will have a role on our football team. All these guys that are here will have a role.”
Last season, Johnson had 40 carries for 201 yards to go with 47 receptions for 429 yards and three touchdowns. In his three previous seasons with the Browns, he had over 500 yards receiving, earning him a reputation as a lethal target out of the backfield.
He also became a fan favorite, helping the team battle through tough time, even being serenaded by “Duke” chants after big plays at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Dontrell Hilliard would be next on the depth chart and has had a solid offseason so far.
“I would love to see Duke as part of the team in September,” Browns running backs coach Stump Mitchell said. “I know it’s voluntary, but I would also like to see him take part in this camp. When you don’t, you give somebody an opportunity. Dontrell has done a helluva job taking advantage of the opportunity.”
Hilliard was acquired as an undrafted free agent a year ago out of Tulane and did not receive a carry last season. He did catch nine balls for 105 yards.
Johnson battled through some tough times with the Browns, so it would be nice to see him stick around Cleveland on a team with higher expectations.