The Cleveland Browns can ill afford to lose another running back, but it appears the team might be looking for solutions — at least for the preseason — following an injury to Dontrell Hilliard that kept the second-year back out of practice.
Hilliard is reportedly dealing with a hamstring injury he suffered during Wednesday’s practice. He was seen icing the injury following the first joint practice with the Colts and wasn’t on the field again Thursday.
Hilliard is slated to be the Browns No. 2 back on the depth chart behind Nick Chubb to open up the season with Kareem Hunt serving an eight-game suspension. he will likely fill in on many of the third down situations where Duke Johnson Jr. — who was traded to the Texans — was so lethal catching the ball.
Browns RB Nick Chubb Appears to be in Mid-Season Form
Luckily for the Browns, their top back has been healthy for all of training camp and has looked to be in stellar form.
The latest example came against the Colts in the joint practice, when he did a quick jump cut and scampered 65 yards for a touchdown.
“He has one of the best jump cuts I have ever seen,” Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens said. “He has a good jump cut in the hole. He has great body control, balance and all the characteristics and skillsets that good running backs have.”
The run even impressed Browns star Odell Beckham Jr., who caught the play from the sideline as he deals with a hip injury.
“It was beautiful vision,” Beckham told Cleveland.com. “He hit it, too. That’s a great run props to the o-line, too. They made a nice hole right there, so you can’t forget about those guys, and Chubb is doing a great job of finishing the runs and taking it to the house. You always want to start it off like that, a big play.”
Kitchens has been complimentary of Chubb all offseason, especially about his ability to shake off the disappointment of coming up just short of 1,000-yard season. The final carry of his rookie season went for negative yardage and he finished with 996 yards.
“Let me tell you something about Nick Chubb, and it sums it up for him. He went over 1,000 yards and then the next carry was for a loss of three or four – I do not know the specifics – and not a word was mentioned about it, not a word. I even apologized to him, but not a word was mentioned about going up and under 1,000 after he had 1,000,” Kitchens said. “That tells you what Nick Chubb is, what he is here for and how he approaches the game, and what the game is about for him. It is about winning. It is about winning a championship. It is about putting yourself in the best position possible to succeed individually and collectively as a team.”
A Look at the Browns Running Back Depth
With Hunt out and Hillard on the mend, there aren’t a whole lot of reliable options for the Browns to turn to.
The Browns signed undrafted rookie D’Ernest Johnson this offseason after his stint in the AAF. He finished his year with the Orlando franchise ranked third in the league in rushing with 372 yards on 64 carries and two scores. Johnson played at USF and is the program’s all-time leader in all-purpose yardage (4,186).
Johnson led the Browns in rushing in their first preseason game against Washington, totally just 24 yards on five carries.
Rookie Trayone Gray was recently activated from the active/non-football injury list. He was dealing with a calf injury. Gray appeared in 10 games for the Miami Hurricanes last year, rushing for just 83 yards and two touchdowns. He had two carries for 16 yards agains the Redskins.
The Browns signed Ohio native A.J. Ouellette during training camp to help fill the depth chart when when Hunt, Johnson and Gray were all sidelined. He was previously an undrafted free agent who was originally with the Saints. He played his college ball at Ohio University. Ouellette managed just five yards on three carries in his Browns preseason debut and is a very long shot to make the roster.