In a recent interview with The Dawgs Podcast, Cleveland Browns running backs coach Stump Mitchell sat down to talk about the upcoming NFL season. In our time with Mitchell, we learned a lot about the Browns running backs and the team's expectations for the season. And every conversation about running backs begins with Nick Chubb.
First, before Chubb's name was even mentioned, Mitchell made sure to commend the Browns offensive line, tight ends and receivers for their blocking. "It makes our job a heck of a lot easier," Mitchell said of the offense. That high-end blocking ability has contributed to Chubb's career 5.2 yards-per-carry average, which is tied with Jim Brown for second-highest in NFL history.
We asked Mitchell what it's like to coach a player of Chubb's caliber, a player whose elite talent and work ethic already put him among the NFL's best players. Obviously, no player is beyond improvement, but there's a line between pushing a player to be better and nit-picking. "I don't mind nit-picking Nick at all," Mitchell laughed. "There's not a whole lot to do."
However, Mitchell did explain the areas he continues to push Chubb to improve. "Proper position on pass protection. Pressing the run track. Nick will probably go all year and he will probably have about, I would say, 15 runs where he probably could've pressed the run track a little bit more. If we can improve upon that, I think he can probably lead the league in rushing."
Chubb leading the league in rushing has been a hot topic among Browns fans due to the numerous reports that the offense is going to feature a more pass-heavy philosophy behind quarterback Deshaun Watson. Chubb had 302 carries in 2022.
That was the most of his career and the third-most in the NFL last season behind only Derrick Henry (349) and Josh Jacobs (339). If Chubb's carries are reduced in 2023, can he still keep pace with the backs who receive 300 or more attempts?
"Even though those guys may have still a hundred more carries than he will, it doesn't matter," explained Mitchell. "If we can improve upon [pressing the run track], he can still lead the league in rushing because he's averaging over 5.2 yards a carry...I think he can average maybe 6.0 yards per carry."
That would be an incredible accomplishment for Chubb, and it's one that he's definitely capable of achieving. The last running back to average over six yards per carry on 200 or more attempts was Jamaal Charles in 2010. Adrian Peterson hit six yards per carry exactly in 2012, but he did that on high volume with 348 carries.
Mitchell's goals for Chubb are not limited to leading the NFL in rushing; protecting the football has been a major focus this offseason. "One goal for myself," Mitchell said, "is to hopefully get Nick through this year without having a fumble. That's something we're working on all the time. He's only had one fumble a year, but that's something we don't want to have because it really cost us last year."
If Chubb could average over six yards per carry without a single fumble in 2023, he would easily remain among the NFL's rushing leaders if not right at the top. But regardless of his statistical performance in 2023, Chubb will continue to be one of Browns fans' favorite players.
Mitchell explained what makes Chubb so endearing to the fans. "He shuts up and does his job. And he's loud when he's running. You don't hear him complain about anything," Mitchell said of his Pro Bowl running back. "If you've ever seen any of Nick's weight-lifting stuff on Instagram, he's at his high school. He goes back during the off-season and he trains his high school track team. He gets his training there. He's a no-nonsense guy. All he wants to do is win. All he wants to do is inspire other young men and women to be successful and work hard. That's who he is."
Speaking with Mitchell gave us an even higher appreciation of Chubb and the impact he has on the team and his community. It's also worth noting that Mitchell himself left his mark on the NFL during his professional playing career.
From 1981-1989, Mitchell racked up 4,649 yards in 116 games for the St. Louis Cardinals. That mark puts him second all-time for rushing yards in Arizona Cardinals history behind only Ottis Anderson.