Duke Johnson, Kareem Hunt Injuries Creating Big Opportunity for Browns RB

Dontrell Hilliard

Getty Cleveland Browns running back Dontrell Hilliard.

The Cleveland Browns running back depth has been ravaged by injury so far at training camp, with Kareem Hunt, Duke Johnson Jr. and Trayone Gray all on the sideline banged up.

But the lack of healthy bodies has boded well for Dontrell Hilliard, who has been able to make a name for himself at training camp with an increased workload.

“Dontrell is going to continue to work,” Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens said. “I have been pleased with Dontrell. He is not a finished product. He needs to keep working. We will see what we have at the end of all of this.”

Hilliard was picked up by the Browns as an undrafted free agent last offseason out of Tulane and spent the first month of the season on the practice squad. After being elevated to the active roster, he appeared in 11 game but did not receive a carry. However, he did catch nine balls for 105 yards and could be in the mix to return kicks.

Dontrell Hilliard Takes Advantage of Spotlight

It isn’t the first time that availability has proven to be the best ability for Hilliard. During OTAs when Johnson stayed away after demanding a trade, the second-year back capitalized, impressing new running backs coach Stump Mitchell.

“When Freddie (Kitchens) asked me to join him, he had high praises for Dontrell,” Mitchell said at OTAs. “He’s got to believe that he belongs and we expect him to come out every day and make plays. I think what he has to understand is that he has to believe in himself as much as we believe in him. Now, he’s getting an opportunity.”

Duke Johnson Dealing With Hamstring Issues

Johnson is dealing with a nagging hamstring, but Kitchens revealed that the ailment is not a serious one. They just don’t want it popping up later in the season.

“We don’t know specifics. We are going to see how it progresses. Duke is a quick healer but we also want to be cautious from the standpoint of this guy has to play for us,” Kitchens told reporters after practice. “We have to make sure he’s healthy and it’s not something that lingers. Sometimes with these hamstrings, they linger. Duke will be fine but we want to err on the side of caution.”

Johnson demanded a ticket out of town this offseason when the Browns signed Hunt, seeing his role in the offense getting greatly reduced. However, Johnson will be key early on for the Browns as Hunt serves an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Likely only fetching a late-round pick on the trade market, it makes sense for the Brows to hang onto him, which both Kitchens and general manager John Dorsey have reiterated.

The Browns spoke with Johnson’s agent Drew Rosenhaus before camp about finding a solution.

“Last time I saw, Duke Johnson is a Cleveland Brown, and he has reported to training camp,” Dorsey said. “Let’s move forward here because we have a lot of goals at stake here in the 2019 season so let’s build together.”

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