CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – There’s a life lesson to be learned from Kareem Hunt returning to the Cleveland Browns: never burn a bridge.
Here’s our top Brownie Bites from the day all was forgiven and Hunt became a Brown again on Wednesday.
Open door – Hunt signed a one-year deal Wednesday to help fill the void from the loss of his friend Nick Chubb for the season after the four-time Pro Bowl back suffered a devastating injury to his left knee Monday night in Pittsburgh. “It feels great, being back in the building that I've been at for the past four or five years and seeing all these faces and a motivated team,” Hunt said. “That one hurt. Seeing that. I watched it live and I hate seeing that happen to one of my brothers and the guy that I care so much about and would go to war for any time of the day. It’s circumstances, I guess. God just had a plan to help guide me back here.” During training camp in 2022 Hunt sat out team drills for a practice to try and effect a contract extension then eventually requested a trade. The Browns kept him, and he finished with 678 total scrimmage yards and four total touchdowns last season. Cleveland elected not to re-sign him and free agency lasted until September for the Willoughby South alum. “I just stayed patient and the running back market hasn't been the best, so I was just staying patient, seeing what was the right fit for me, and where I could help out any team and play,” Hunt said. Now he’s back with the hometown team. “I never fully closed the door or whatnot, but I didn't think it was a big possibility,” Hunt said. “So things work out in situations for a reason, so I guess it was just meant for me to come play for the hometown again.” Whatever fences that needed mended seem to have been and his goal as a Brown remains the same. “We get along,” Hunt said. “I have mad respect for everybody in this building and it was never to that point. So it was good to see everybody, talk over expectations and things that I can help and just help this team win. I'm willing to come in and do whatever it takes just to help win. My biggest thing is help win the Super Bowl.” Hunt will be the No. 2 back behind Jerome Ford once he’s ready to roll. “I think it's great,” Hunt said. “Jerome's very young. He's talented, got a lot of speed and he’s made a big jump. He’s just growing and getting better. So, I'm excited to see us paired together, how we can wear down defenses and break runs.”
Team effort – As Hunt wrapped up his Zoom call, linebacker Anthony Walker greeted him with a hug and yelled “Welcome back!” three times. The loss of Chubb for the season hit Walker hard. “Obviously Nick, a special player, man, special person off the field as well,” Walker said. “[We] have a very close relationship. He really helped me throughout my process of getting back last year. So hate to see Nick go down.” While Walker is upset to see Chubb sidelined, he was clearly excited to have Hunt back while knowing replacing Chubb will be difficult, if not unrealistic. “As soon as he walked through the door, a lot of guys got excited when they seen him,” Walker said. “So you never take that for granted. A great teammate, obviously a great runner, a great catcher out the backfield, he's definitely going to help us in a huge way this year. Like I said, you can't replace a Nick Chubb, but we can start to fill those shoes with Kareem Hunt and the rest of that room. I thought the rest of our backs played well as well. So it's going to be a group effort and a team effort. We can't place it all on the running backs, even though Nick Chubb, he is Nick Chubb, but it's going to be a team effort and we understand that. We're going to play the rest of the season for 24.”
Helping hand – The Browns defense has brought it the first two weeks of the season, including in Monday night’s loss to the Steelers but they feel they can do more to help pick up the offense. “I think we just got to find a way to give them more possessions,” Walker said. “We got to get off the field a little bit more. A couple plays that we want back as a defense that we feel like really changed the momentum of the game. Me on the third-and-10, the running back catches the ball for a checkdown, gets 11 yards. The next play they score a touchdown. If I make that tackle, we're off the field and the offense has the ball again. Another third-and-something in the third quarter, they throw a dig route. If we get off the field on that play, offense has another opportunity. So we're not playing perfect as a defense. Our offense is making plays, we just got to find a way to give them more opportunities.” Cleveland’s defense is allowing opponents to convert less than 21% on third down through two games whereas last season they surrendered a fresh set of downs nearly 40% of the time.
Clean it up – The inability of Deshaun Watson to lead the Browns down the field in the final two minutes has directed a bevy of criticism the quarterback’s way. Such is life when a player is paid to be elite, but head coach Kevin Stefanski is making sure Watson isn’t shouldering all of the blame. “Anytime you come up short, there's things that you want to do differently,” Stefanski said. “I think that's the beauty of our sport, that's the beauty of playing in this league where you get another opportunity. But I know Deshaun and all of our players want to continue to make plays.” Stefanski believes continued work in the film room and on the practice field will go a long way towards cleaning things up. “I really do think we can make adjustments really in all areas to be a little bit cleaner on our technique, be a little bit cleaner in our execution,” Stefanski said. “It's really pretty simple. I think for us, we look real hard at scheme, technique alignments, I mean the nuts and bolts of it to make sure that we're doing everything to have a precise attack.”
Walk through – The Browns did not practice Wednesday as Kevin Stefanski ran a walk through instead coming off the Monday night game. The team held their media availability over Zoom. As for the three players coming off injuries from Monday night - Za'Darius Smith, Greg Newsome II and Amari Cooper, they are “day-to-day” according to Stefanski.
Injury report – Had the team practiced, this would have been the participation reported to the league office. DNP: LG Joe Bitonio (rest), DE Myles Garrett (rest), WR Amari Cooper (groin, shoulder), CB Greg Newsome II (elbow), DE Za’Darius Smith (ankle, thigh); LIMITED: LB Sione Takitaki (shoulder), LB Anthony Walker (pectoral), LT Jedrick Wills Jr. (shoulder); FULL: Siaki Ika (foot), S Juan Thornhill (calf)