CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns running backs room is one of the most explosive in the NFL, lead by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and made stronger with the help of D'Ernest Johnson, John Kelly and now, Jerome Ford. But there's another man who graces the sideline with an iconic beard you'd be hard-pressed to miss, even from the 500-level of FirstEnergy Stadium, who makes the run game really go.
Stump Mitchell, Browns run game coordinator and running backs coach, is known for instilling drive and passion in his players. You can hear him getting at his guys from the sideline at any given practice, encouraging and correcting constantly. His own passion for the game has not been lost on anyone, but for the last half of the season in 2021, his presence was hindered.
Mitchell was sidelined from his coaching duties last October, out "indefinitely" while tending to a medical issue that related to a previous knee surgery he had undergone in the 2020 offseason. The running backs coach ended up missing the rest of the season to undergo two knee procedures after a previous knee injury that began bothering him again that summer. After months of pushing through pain, it became too much, and Mitchell decided it was time to address the injuries and focus on his health.
"That was definitely tough. The last 10 weeks, being home, watching on TV or watching practice by way of Zoom, still having some contact with them, but not this on-field, in-person coaching," Mitchell said. "I missed it more than they missed me. I could tell you that much."
Hunt would beg to differ, however, recalling how much the backs missed their coach during his time away.
“We missed him a lot. It’s kind of funny because it didn’t feel right going into the meetings and not seeing coach stump talking to me Nick and D’Ernest and the other guys—it was different," Hunt said. "We're used to having Stump there and hearing his knowledge and stuff like that."
Mitchell's absence was felt even more because of that knowledge and the experience he has. Mitchell played running back in the NFL for 10 seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs before beginning his coaching career in 1992.
“Y’all don’t really know this but Coach Stump, he brings the juice," Hunt said. “He’s always fired up, the man loves football. He's been around the football field longer than probably any coach we’ve had."
While Mitchell was out last year, assistants Ryan Cordell and Kevin Rogers held down the fort, and did a good job of it with the Browns rushing for 2,471 yards— fourth in the NFL and the fourth-most yards in a season in Browns history— while leading the NFL in rushing average with 5.09 yards per run.
Those numbers were certainly helped by advice and input Mitchell was able to provide during visits to the facility and virtual meetings he wouldn't dare miss. While focusing on his health, Mitchell was never fully out of the mix, popping in with a walker to aide him as he met with his players. Eventually, Mitchell was able to move to crutches, and as his health improved, he ditched the equipment and began walking the facility under his own strength.
"He would text us, call us before every game. He just wanted to be there," Hunt said. "He would come to practice even when they told him not to come to practice."
After months of recovery, Mitchell is feeling much better and was back on the fields for OTAs and minicamp.
"I'm feeling good. Getting physical therapy every day and working towards being ready for training camp," Mitchell said.
As training camp approaches, Mitchell has been eager to continue working with the many talented backs on the roster, including rookie Jerome Ford.
"There's no question he's a great runner. It's still to be determined how much of a pass-blocker he can be, but he's doing a good job hitting these dummies in these sleds," Mitchell said of the newest back. "I think he's going to bring everything that these other guys that we have in the room bring—intensity, attention to detail and getting the job done."
As for the guys who have already proven themselves in the backfield, Mitchell is ready to continue their development and keep one of the Browns greatest strengths going in 2022.
"We're asking them all pretty much to do the same thing—be productive in whatever role that may be. We're a wide zone team so we're asking them to stretch the plays before we're looking for a cutback. On third-down situations, if they're a blocker or a pass receiver, we're simply asking them to get the job done. So they've been here this offseason working to be able to accomplish those things during the fall."
And of course, Mitchell weighed in on his hopes for the Browns run game as it relates to seeing Chubb and Hunt in the backfield together at the same time—a vision many Browns fans have been longing for more of.
"I think it's super," Mitchell said of the two sharing a backfield. "The most amount of talent we can have on the field, the better we feel."
Mitchell will be able to work on that and more starting on July 27 when the Browns start their training camp practice sessions.
Camryn Justice is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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