One of the most interesting storylines that will be closely watched during training camp involves the offense as the Browns prepare for the 2018 National Football League season.
Todd Haley, the club’s new offensive coordinator, has been charged with the responsibility of awakening a running attack that has been semi comatose at best for the last few years.
And while he won’t have the luxury of calling on Le’Veon Bell to bail him out as he has with the Pittsburgh Steelers the last five seasons, he will benefit from the best corps of running backs the Browns have fielded in a long time.
Now that Duke Johnson Jr. is in the fold ($15.6 million over three years for those who need to know the figures), it will be interesting to see how Haley parcels out touches for Carlos Hyde, Nick Chubb and Johnson.
The challenge will be to keep all three happy and, at the same time, productive enough to make life easier for whoever has the huddle.
Even though the NFL has become a quarterback-driven league, old school purists (like me) still believe a successful ground game sets up the passing game. And with someone like Johnson now securely in his holster, Haley has all sorts of options he can use.
In Pittsburgh, Bell was the Swiss army knife. He did it all – he is a greet runner, catches the football out of the backfield and blocks. The Todd Haley playbook with the Steelers was simple. It won’t be that easy with Cleveland, but at least he has the horses.
Each of his three players has a particular talent that should engender enough touches to satisfy each man. Hyde and Chubb are grinders who can churn out the tough yards, although Hyde showed last season he can also be counted on in the passing game.
Chubb is the X-factor in that aspect of the offense, having played in an attack at the University of Georgia that featured the run game. Haley most likely will try to find out quickly whether the rookie draft pick has soft hands when the football is airborne.
Johnson, meanwhile, has established himself as one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league since arriving in 2015. He came out of Miami of Florida three years ago with the reputation of being a workhorse – he rushed for 1,652 yards in his final season with the Hurricanes – and displayed good hands almost immediately.
When you have a running back who averages 6.7 yards a touch, as Johnson produced last season, you find a way to get him the ball as many times as possible in a game. His 74 receptions last season led the team, more than the total of the next two receivers.
The solution to Haley’s possible conundrum with some much talent at the position probably will be situational. Down and distance will be a factor in a lot of the coordinator’s plans, as will how much he sees Johnson’s continued worth in the passing game.
It can’t be stated strongly enough that Johnson’s skill set poses a large problem to opposing defenses, especially when he flanks either out wide or in the slot. And his ability to run well after the catch makes him that much more dangerous.
Hyde probably will open up as the starter unless Chubb has a sensational training camp and exhibition season. Whoever gets the call initially, though, can expect solid support off the bench and be well rested when called on.
With so much talent at his disposal, it’s pretty safe to say the Cleveland ground game this season under Haley all but insures the club will not scrape the bottom of the 32-team league in points scored as it has the last two seasons under Hue Jackson.