Considering Nick Chubb’s new role in the Cleveland Browns’ pass-first offense

With Deshaun Watson under center, the Browns will be changing their offensive identity. Can Chubb adapt to it?
nick chubb browns steelers 2022
PITTSBURGH, PA – JANUARY 08: Nick Chubb #24 of the Cleveland Browns in action against the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 8, 2022 at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

It’s time for football again in The Land. As the Cleveland Browns prepare for the season’s first game against the Cincinnati Bengals this week, all signs point to them shifting to a pass-first offense with Deshaun Watson under center. With the additions of new receivers like rookie Cedric Tillman, free agent Marquise Goodwin and former New York Jet Elijah Moore – the Browns have been retooling their roster for the new quarterback. With a new arsenal of receivers and some familiar faces like Amari Cooper and David Njoku, the Browns may be on the verge of forging a new identity for the offense. With the focus on passing, one has to wonder how the Browns’ star running back Nick Chubb will fit into the new offense. Watson’s arrival to Cleveland signaled two things on the football field – one, the Browns were pushing all their chips into the table to compete now and two, they planned on utilizing the talents of their new quarterback to throw the ball over running it.

Chubb’s success in Cleveland over the last five years has been due to his impressive talent and ability to run the ball. He is a sheer talent personified when rushing down the field. However, given that the Browns have never had a quarterback who can throw like Watson can, Chubb will need to adjust his game and adapt to this new offense. As Watson stated, head coach Kevin Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt gave him the keys to this offense. 

Between contract disputes, injury concerns, and everything in between – this NFL offseason has been clamoring with noise surrounding the running back position. However, the running back noise in Cleveland has been relatively calm. Chubb has been one of the Browns’ brightest spots for the past five years amidst the highs and lows. Earlier this summer, PFF released their rankings for all 32 running backs ahead of the upcoming NFL season, with Chubb ranked first overall. With his recent contract extension putting him in Cleveland at least until 2025, it’s evident the Browns fully intend to utilize Nick Chubb as an integral factor in this offense.

chubb browns commanders 2023
LANDOVER, MD – JANUARY 01: Nick Chubb #24 of the Cleveland Browns warms up before the game against the Washington Commanders at FedExField on January 1, 2023 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Typically, in the past, Chubb was mainly seen on those first and second downs where he would gradually break down the opposing team’s defensive line repeatedly. Meanwhile, Kareem Hunt would be utilized in third-down situations as a pass-catching option for the Browns. This would usually expose opponents for the Browns to use their run game against them. With Hunt no longer in Cleveland, the Browns no longer have their two-headed monster of a running back duo. However, sometimes where there is loss something can be gained. With the absence of Hunt on this roster, Chubb’s value to the Browns has skyrocketed even more than it ever has before.

Having a whole training camp to practice with Watson this time has undoubtedly given Chubb an edge when preparing for a pass-catch role in the team’s offense. When he sat down for a brief interview during camp, Chubb spoke on how his involvement in the passing game can potentially open up Cleveland’s offense. Stump Mitchell, the Browns’ running back coach, spoke to Chubb’s versatility and adaptiveness as a player. Mitchell told reporters “Nick is in there on third down as well … he’s had an opportunity to run more of those routes … He’s going to be the first, second and third down guy.”

This past year, Chubb had 1,525 rushing yards, along with 12 rushing touchdowns, making him one of the most dominant running backs in the league. While he has been chiefly used in the Browns’ offense as a traditional run-first running back, this year things could change. In an interview in July, Kevin Stefanski spoke with reporters on the importance of Nick Chubb on this team. Stefanski praised Chubb, saying “Nick’s a huge part of our offense – handing it to him, throwing it to him. He’s been adept at both.” It’s signaling to many that the Browns have been preparing for Chubb to get some time as a receiver out of the backfield instead of just his usual role. In that same interview, Stefanski continued to comment on Chubb, specifically “I don’t know if there’s limits to him as a player. I think he’s a schematic fit in really anything you do.”

It’s no secret that Chubb was one of the sole factors driving success for Cleveland’s offense these past few years. Everyone on that coaching staff should see that, considering his contract extension. Transitioning some of Chubb’s role as a running back to be a pass-catching option will limit the wear and tear on his body that he usually takes when running the ball traditionally. The Browns will look for Chubb to produce the same success as he’s done in the past for the team but with a new mentality in this pass-first offense. By emphasizing throwing the ball in their brand-new offense – the Browns can push Chubb to a new level of adaptiveness and offensive prowess.

If Chubb can genuinely embrace his new role as the first, second and third down guy – then the sky is the limit for the Browns going into this season.

At his core, Matt Fagan has been a writer since he could pick up a pen or pencil and scribble words down. He believes there is real power in the bond between sports and storytelling and always tries to cultivate that energy when covering Cleveland sports.

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