Nick Chubb's place in Cleveland has been that of a load-bearing, tackle-breaking cornerstone.
Most of his work has been done on the ground. In 2023, though, that might expand to the air.
Chubb is seeing more activity in Cleveland's passing game during training camp and the preseason. With a full camp with quarterback Deshaun Watson working to their advantage, the Browns hope they can find new ways to attack defenses from the start of the season.
"I think it will," Chubb said when asked how his involvement in the passing game might open up Cleveland's offense. "Not knowing what we're going to do if I'm in the game. Last year I was just mostly (playing) first, second down, so I kind of gave them an idea of what we're going to do. But hopefully this year will be different with me doing more things."
Chubb first began focusing on improving as a pass-catching back in the 2019 training camp, taking reps as a target of Baker Mayfield in an offense that included the likes of Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. But as that season unraveled, his work was largely wasted. And for the next three years, Chubb only sparingly saw opportunities as a receiving option, with his single-season high in targets coming in 2021 with 40.
With Kareem Hunt now gone and youngster Jerome Ford still working his way back from injury, the Browns will likely need Chubb to do more. He's embracing the challenge, while downplaying the added responsibility.
"Not so much. I know those guys behind me are prepared well every day with coach Stump (Mitchell) and here at practice," Chubb said. "So I know if anything happens, those guys will be ready to go out there and compete and make plays for this team."
Chubb has been a flashpoint of debate in Cleveland regarding Kevin Stefanski's play-calling decisions in the last year. When Stefanski called 20 or more runs for Chubb, the Browns went 5-1. In games in which he saw less than 20 carries, Cleveland finished just 2-9.
While it might seem as simple as handing the ball to Chubb more, defenses caught up to this advantage quite quickly. And because the Browns didn't use Chubb as a pass catcher, when he was on the field, he largely occupied one of two roles: ball-carrier or pass blocker.
Adding Chubb into the passing game should, as he explained, make Cleveland less predictable. This, plus the full availability of Watson from Week 1 onward, should help Cleveland improve upon its 14th-ranked standing last season, which included a 22nd-place finish in passing.
"I think there's that potential to be one of the best in the NFL," Chubb said of the Browns' offense. "It depends on us executing every day and alignment, assignment, playing fast, but being smart."
Only time will tell. But Chubb is fully committed.
"Whatever it takes, I'm excited for it," he said.
Want to follow these storylines and more? NFL+ gives you the freedom to watch live out-of-market preseason games, daily coverage on NFL Network, the best NFL programming on-demand and much more! Plus, NFL RedZone is now part of NFL+ Premium! Learn more about NFL+.