The Cleveland Browns made the understandable decision in the offseason to move on from running back Kareem Hunt.
The veteran had spent the previous four seasons with the Browns but saw his production fall off last season as he posted career lows in both yards per carry (3.8) and yards per reception (6.0), while also scoring just four combined rushing/receiving touchdowns after averaging almost nine a season in his first five years in the league.
But life comes at you fast in the NFL, and with the team placing running back Nick Chubb on the injured reserve list with a season-ending knee injury, the Browns found themselves in urgent need of another running back to pair with Jerome Ford and Pierre Strong Jr. with their next game looming on the horizon.
Being familiar with Hunt and Hunt being familiar with the offense helped lead to a somewhat unexpected reunion, as head coach Kevin Stefanski said on Wednesday (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“When you add players that are free agents, oftentimes you have to ramp them up and get them ready to play. We have done that (and) you can do that in this case. There’s obviously some newness that Kareem is learning but he can pick up things very quickly. So that definitely factored into it.
“I think in this business you never know really. When guys leave here, you’re always rooting for them. In this case, an opportunity presented itself here. You know, Kareem has familiarity in our offense and what we’re about, (so it) felt like it was a really good fit.”
How much Hunt plays, not only this week but the rest of the season, remains an open question. The Browns selected Ford in last year’s draft with the plan to have him take over as Chubb’s backup, and after rushing for 106 yards on Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ford is in line to take over the starter’s role beginning on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.
Hunt looks to be in “good shape,” according to Stefanski, but after not being in training camp or the preseason all summer, he may not be in football shape. Time is growing short for the coaching staff to determine if Hunt is ready for game action, however, and Stefanski said they will “work through all that” in the coming days.
For his part Hunt, who is reportedly 10 pounds lighter than he was when last seen in a Cleveland uniform, is ready to let bygones be bygones over the whole free agency thing and get back to playing football (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“We get along. 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 the team win. I’m willing to come in and do whatever it takes just to help win. My biggest thing is to help win a Super Bowl
“I kind of know the playbook and everything already, so I’m just waiting for my number to get called and being ready to take hits and stuff like that. I’m right up the street from my house. I guess it worked out in ways that I can’t even explain. So I’m grateful to be here. Still got a lot of love for Cleveland.”
The author Thomas Wolfe wrote that you can’t go “back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time.”
The Browns and Hunt and hoping that, at least for the remaining 15 games of the season, the changes they have undergone will not stop them from rediscovering a little bit of the success that they experienced during Hunt’s previous tenure with the franchise.