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Duce Staley as the Browns new RB coach? Not so fast

Talented assistant coach might be in demand

Carolina Panther vs New York Giants Perry Knotts/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns parted ways with their running backs coach Stump Mitchell last Tuesday along with OC Alex Van Pelt and T.C. McCartney, who handled the tight ends. The moves were the first for the offensive side of the ball since Kevin Stefanski was hired as head coach back in 2020.

Last off-season, DC Joe Woods was let go and the club hired Jim Schwartz. Special teams were also affected when Mike Priefer was part of the shakeup and the Browns reached out to former Cleveland Browns special teams ace Bubba Ventrone who had been the special teams coach with the Indianapolis Colts.

But for all of these years, the offensive side of the coaching had remained intact.

Mitchell had been applauded for his efforts of not only grooming Nick Chubb but had getting the most out of Kareem Hunt and helping him transition into a role player. Mitchell also developed D’Ernest Johnson from a developmental league standout to a successful fill-in when both Chubb and Hunt became injured. Both Hunt and Johnson weren’t re-signed for 2023.

All the while, all of these runners worked behind one of the top-3 offensive lines in the league. That changed this year as both starting tackles became injured and were placed on IR, as well as the main substitute in rookie Dawand Jones. No longer was Cleveland’s line viewed as elite.

Chubb was lost for the year to which former fifth-round draft pick Jerome Ford became the starting back. Hunt re-signed after the Chubb injury, and GM Andrew Berry made a trade with the New England Patriots for Pierre Strong, who was taken in the fourth round.

The wheels of this group fell completely off. The offensive line did not perform at an elite level, Ford averaged just 47.8 yards per game, and Strong only played on 13.63% of offensive snaps.

The running game had always been a sense of pride with the Browns but went from one of the NFL’s best to 12th in yards gained (2,017), 25th in average yards per carry (3.9), 14th in rushing touchdowns (15), and 18th on runs for 20+ yards (9).

In Cleveland’s 45-14 loss to the Houston Texans in the playoffs, the run game struggled mightily with just 56 on 20 carries, with a paltry 2.8 yards per carry average. Because of the inability to run, the Texans’ defense would rush all-out on most downs assuming the Browns had to throw.

Carolina Panthers Rookie Minicamp Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Last Wednesday, Carolina Panthers assistant head coach and RB coach Duce Staley arrived in Berea for an interview for the Browns vacant RB coaching position.

Staley may or may not be the answer. The Panthers’ offense finished last in the NFL and their running attack ranked 20th in the league. The concept towards Staley is that perhaps he can bring some fresh ideas to a stagnant running back room.

Staley played running back for 10 years with the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers and retired in 2006. From 2011-2020, he held three coaching positions with the Eagles including RB coach. In 2021 he was hired by the Detroit Lions as their assistant head coach plus had RB coaching duties and held that position until being hired by Carolina this year.

He is the inventor of “The Duce Staley Drill”, which is a practice drill that Staley created to enhance players’ footwork. This drill was added to the NFL Scouting Combine in 2020.

Chubb should be back at some point in 2024. There is discussions that perhaps Cleveland will draft a young back in this year’s draft, probably in the later rounds to compete with Ford and Strong. The Browns also had John Kelly on the practice squad.

On Staley’s visit, he spent that day interviewing with management and Stefanski at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus in Berea. According to cleveland.com, the Browns plan to make Staley an offer although the team appears to be taking its time of who to hire for the three available coaching positions.

But now there is a report that the New York Jets have an interest in bringing Staley in for a visit as well. Taylor Embree is currently their RB coach, but the Jets may have another position in mind such as passing game coordinator that would be viewed as an elevation of position for Staley. Or perhaps they are moving on from Embree.

Tuesday came news that Staley had interviewed with New York and Embree was out:

The Browns would like to change their offensive approach going forward and play to QB Deshaun Watson’s strengths. The run game is seen as valuable and a critical component of the way the offense performs.