The Cleveland Browns have a bit of a different look in the running back room this season.
Running back Nick Chubb is obviously still there and prepared to continue to stake his claim as the league’s best running back. But the faces around him have changed as Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson left in free agency, and on Tuesday the club moved on from Hassan Hall (who was re-signed to the practice squad on Wednesday), Demetric Felton Jr. and John Kelly Jr. as they trimmed down to the initial 53-man roster.
Chubb will see a familiar face in second-year running back Jerome Ford, who returned to practice on Tuesday after being out since August 7 with a hamstring injury, but introductions would appear to be in order for Pierre Strong Jr., who was acquired on Sunday via a trade with the New England Patriots.
Initially a fourth-round selection by the Patriots in the 2022 NFL Draft, Strong had just 10 carries with New England, but turned those limited touches into 100 rushing yards, a figure boosted by his 44-yard scamper against the Arizona Cardinals. He also added seven receptions and played 143 snaps on special teams.
With the Browns, Strong is slotted as the third running back, but given how Cleveland has had to dive into their depth at times over the past few seasons, he may be called upon at some point this fall.
Strong arrived in town in time for Tuesday’s practice and said he is prepared for whatever the Browns need from him (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“Whatever they need me to do, I’m going to do it. So, whatever they need, catch (the ball) out of the backfield, run block, anything they need me to do, that’s my role. That’s what I’m going to do. So, I am not just looking at one thing, looking at anything where coaches need me.
“I’m versatile. My speed, my hands in the backfield, blocking and just being an all-around back. Like I said, speed. Just showing them – (I can) break away and get to the edges and just do anything they need me to do with the ball in my hands.”
Similar to how Cleveland’s defensive linemen have talked about the benefits of playing in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’ system, Strong walks into a situation that is a running back’s dream. The Browns have one of the league’s best offensive lines, a respected running back coach in Stump Mitchell, and a model player in Chubb.
He may have only had one practice with the Browns, but Strong is already absorbing any knowledge he can from Chubb and Mitchell (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“(Chubb) knows everything. So I listen to everything he’s saying to take it all in. He helped me perfect my game and just telling me little key pointers that he uses. So he helped my game out as well.
“(Mitchell is) an OG of the game. He’s an older guy, so he’s been around the game for quite a long time. So, I respect (him) … and just follow his lead, because he’s been around the game way (longer), probably before I was born. I’m just always like, whatever you say, I 100% agree with it, because, like I said, he’d been around the game.”
Strong is in a situation that is the envy of running backs across the league, and if can work to build on the small success he had in New England, the Browns may find themselves as a team that actually comes out on the right side of a trade with the Patriots.