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Antonio Callaway, Nick Chubb emerging as key parts of Browns' offense

BEREA, Ohio -- Wide receiver Antonio Callaway may see his snaps reduced slightly, but he’s ready to stay on the field.

Running back Nick Chubb is ready for more snaps, and he’ll get them.

That is the upshot for two Cleveland Browns rookies -- Callaway a fourth-round pick, Chubb a second-round pick. Regardless of how the snap counts go, both will be important parts of the Browns' offense.

The Browns took Callaway from famine to feast in a hurry. He did not play in 2017 at Florida because of off-field issues. But since the trade of wide receiver Josh Gordon, Callaway has been on the field for 176 of the Browns’ 221 snaps -- against New Orleans, the Jets and Oakland -- or 80 percent of the snaps.

Against the Raiders, Callaway caught three passes, one a virtual run when he caught a shovel pass after being in motion. He frequently was used in motion as the Browns tried to set up their offense with fake handoffs to Callaway.

To him, it was no big deal.

“It’s my job,” he said.

But the Browns are debating giving Rashard Higgins a few more snaps and Callaway a few fewer. This won’t be a giant reduction, mind you. The lack of depth at receiver means Callaway has to be on the field. But the team feels a 10 or 15 percent reduction may help. There are indications the Browns believe Callaway's numbers may get better with a slight reduction in plays.

“I think you guys all know some of this inconsistency comes with young players,” coach Hue Jackson said. “I think maybe limiting sometimes the number of snaps that a player has to play [helps]. We are going to have to depend on Antonio. He is going to have to make plays for us as we go as you just mentioned. We are not going to shy away from that, but maybe not playing as many plays as he plays in a game will help him get to step back, take a look, take a blow, come back and do it again.”

Callaway has made big plays, catching a 47-yard touchdown throw from Tyrod Taylor on fourth down and setting up a go-ahead touchdown late against Oakland with a 59-yard catch-and-run. But he has had occasional trouble with the routine. He has dropped two passes, one that turned into an interception return for a touchdown in Oakland, and had some issues with precision in route running.

One note: Callaway said he tweaked his knee on the dirt infield after catching Baker Mayfield's pass in Oakland and that was the reason he didn’t pull away to score a touchdown. Had he been healthy, Callaway said, “I would finish that.”

Chubb has earned more carries pretty simply.

“When a guy is averaging 50 yards a carry, you better keep giving it to him,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said.

The 50 was just a slight exaggeration. In Oakland, Chubb scored on runs of 63 yards in the second quarter and 49 in the fourth. His third run was a simple 3-yard gain. For the game Chubb averaged 35 yards on three runs.

“Around here I believe strongly [that] you earn the right to make plays, and he has certainly earned the right with a couple of those runs,” Haley said.

Chubb and Carlos Hyde looked like they would form a potent tandem in the offeason and preseason. Both had quick feet, read holes well and showed good vision.

Hyde has been the Browns' lead back, and though he is averaging 3.4 yards per carry, they are happy with how hard and how smart he runs. Hyde gets what he can from a play. He leads the league in carries with 83, ranks sixth with 285 yards, and is tied for the league lead with five touchdown runs.

Hyde’s production is one reason Chubb has just 15 snaps. Another concern with a young back is in pass protection. That struggle showed against Pittsburgh and has been a factor in Chubb’s playing time.

But when a back runs like Chubb did in Oakland, he earns more time -- and more carries.

“There is nothing holding him back,” Jackson said. "We just have to stick him out there.”

Haley said it’s a lesson he learned from his father, who was the Pittsburgh Steelers director of players personnel in the '70s.

"His rule is if a guy is averaging double digits, you better give it to him enough until it is single digits,” Haley said.

Hyde remains the Browns’ lead back, and his ability near the goal line will keep him on the field in those situations. The system has worked for the first quarter of the season; the Brown rank second in the NFL in rushing with 152.8 yards per game.