Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
During these uncertain times of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s good to know that some things haven’t changed. Or at least one thing for sure hasn’t changed.
Nick Chubb is still Nick Chubb.
Here’s the Browns’ selfless running back talking about the prospect of losing some game reps because Kareem Hunt is on hand for the start of the season instead of just the final eight games like last year.
“Whatever happens, I trust in the coaching staff and I trust in the team,” Chubb said. “I know they will put us in the best position to win. However that looks, I am fine with it.”
Here’s Chubb talking about learning yet another new offensive system – his third in three seasons.
“I think it just starts with the coaches and then it starts with us,” Chubb said. “No matter what is called, we have to make it work. We all have to buy in. We all have to trust in ourselves and trust in each other and just go out there and play. I am excited about the new offense, about the new coaches, about the new team and the new year. Whatever is called, whatever play he wants to run, we have to go out there, give 100 percent and make it happen.”
Here's Chubb talking about what one part of his game he worked on in the offseason.
“I don’t know. I stick to what I always do,” Chubb said. “I just go home, I work my tail off, workout, lift, grind and do football drills every day. There is not really one thing I try to get better at. I just try to do what I always do but get faster, bigger and stronger.”
Chubb had the same attitude when he shared time in the backfield at Georgia with Sony Michel.
Revered Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman, who left the Bulldogs to become head coach at Arkansas, said on Countdown to the Draft on 850 ESPN Cleveland in April, “It’s hard to compare somebody to Nick Chubb. Nick Chubb is one of the nicest kids born in the world. He just is, and everyone who’s met him knows that.”
Crown that slipped away
Freddie Kitchens championed Chubb as his first position coach with the Browns. When Kitchens succeeded Todd Haley as offensive coordinator for the last eight games in 2018, Chubb’s career took off.
And then with Kitchens as head coach last year, Chubb zoomed to the NFL rushing lead. Through 14 games, Chubb held a lead of 1,408 yards to 1,243 over Tennessee’s Derrick Henry.
Alas, Chubb carried only 28 times in the final two games against Baltimore and Cincinnati for 86 yards.
Conversely, Titans coach Mike Vrabel, embroiled in a win-or-go-home playoff charge, dialed up Henry 53 times in back-to-back critical games against division-rival Houston. Henry responded with 86 and 211 yards to beat out Chubb for the NFL rushing crown, 1,540 to 1,494.
Their rushing averages were nearly identical, 5.08 per carry for Henry and 5.01 for Chubb. A much bigger discrepancy was in their touchdowns – 16 for Henry and eight for Chubb – reflecting Kitchens’ inexplicable brain-lock in ignoring Chubb near the goal line.
But Chubb won’t rip Kitchens for costing him the NFL rushing crown.
“[It did] not really bother me,” Chubb said. “Just more motivation. Trying to do it this year. Just working out, as I always do, working hard and running hard. I believe everything happens for a reason, and you just keep working and striving and things will fall into place for you. That is my mindset.”
It is typical of Chubb that he bonded with Hunt – an NFL rushing champion in his own right -- who probably will take reps away from Chubb. The creative options of having Chubb and Hunt on the field together must have new coach Kevin Stefanski and the analytics department crunching algorithms into the night.
“It is exciting for sure,” Chubb said. “Definitely because [Hunt] can do so many different things. It doesn’t have to be him running the ball. It can be catching it out of the slot. I think we have a lot of guys on this team and a lot of playmakers, and you can’t go wrong with who has the ball. Pick your poison. The coaches do a great job of dividing it up, even if they don’t have to divide it up. If one guy is our guy, then we can go to him – maybe he has a hot hand this game.”
Do your part
It’s been widely said that the teams that will succeed in the pandemic season are the ones with strong leadership to police their locker room and keep players from violating virus protocols. One or two selfish acts – (see: Indians) – can imperil or infect a position group, or the whole team.
Chubb is the polar opposite of selfish, of course.
So I asked him what his biggest concern is about playing in 2020.
“My biggest concern is just one person messing it up for everybody,” Chubb said. “If one person gets sick, if somebody somehow gets on the field around a lot more guys, he can spread it through that. If everybody does their job, we have tests every morning, so I think that wouldn’t happen anyway, but if somehow some guy slipped past the test and all that, then that would worry me.
“If everybody does [his] part right, just follow the protocols, the guidelines and things like that, I think we will have a season.”
Here’s a rule of thumb for the Browns in 2020: DWNCWD. Do what Nick Chubb would do.
Actually, it’s a pretty good rule of thumb any time, pandemic or not.