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Browns offensive lineman Chris Hubbard has been through two surgeries in the past 16 months, but those trials don’t overshadow his anticipation for the 2022 season.
His eagerness came across even over the phone.
“I am ready. I’m going to let you know right now, I am ready. I’m more excited to get back with everybody and just put in the work because we’ve got a special group,” Hubbard said.
“This is going to be a very exciting year. It’s a new year, it’s a new Browns team. I feel very confident in this group.”
A versatile backup tackle and guard, Hubbard was sorely missed in 2021, when he tried to play through a torn triceps suffered in the opener at Kansas City. He eventually chose surgery in early October, ending his second consecutive season on injured reserve. In 2020, Hubbard was knocked out by a dislocated kneecap in a Dec. 20 game against the New York Giants.
But Hubbard, 31, carries an upbeat perspective on his challenging two years.
“I think it’s growth and development,” Hubbard said Wednesday in an interview with the Beacon Journal. “I feel like you’re always battle-tested in some areas throughout your life and it’s just how do you respond. Do you give up? Do you quit? Or do you keep on working to get better at what you do?
“Life is always going to throw you curveballs, it’s just how you’re able to manage yourself and having that mindset of not giving up. There’s going to be tough days. But the good always outweighs the bad. For me, my focus is getting back and trying to win a championship. That’s my thing. I want to win a championship before it’s all said and done.”
Not surprisingly, Hubbard never thought about quitting after his latest injury.
“Not at all. I think it added more fuel to the fire for me," he said. “I think I’m more hungry now and more ready than ever to get back out there. I think I’m really humbled and I’m very hungry.”
A longtime ambassador for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Hubbard will be the featured speaker at the NAMI Summit County annual May luncheon Tuesday at the Hilton Akron/Fairlawn. The event will help kick off National Mental Health Awareness Month, and Hubbard is planning more appearances through his Overcoming Together Foundation.
Hubbard will return to Cleveland from Atlanta Sunday to begin participating in the Browns' offseason program. His manager, Antone Barnes, believes Hubbard was more mentally prepared for triceps surgery than he was after the dislocated kneecap, and Hubbard agreed.
“Mentally, it wasn’t as much crying as I was before my first surgery,” Hubbard said. “This was kind of like, ‘I get the surgery, boom, let’s go into rehab. Let’s take care of my mind.’ I was ready.
“It definitely turned on a switch in my mind to get prepared and put in the work and I knew what was to come. I also had a lot of support. That support is the biggest thing when you have an injury or life itself.”
Now divorced, Hubbard said the support came from his family and girlfriend. He also saw the silver lining of spending more time with his 5-year-old son, Creed. But his efforts to get Creed to play baseball have thus far proved fruitless, with Hubbard saying Creed “loves the mess out of football.”
“He always brings joy to my heart,” Hubbard said. “I’m doing everything for him so he can have a better life than I had.
“He has that heart and that kindness and that smile that just lights up a room. He’s super smart, loving and super playful. Just seeing him most of my days brings the best out of me.”
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Starting his fifth year with the Browns, Hubbard said he’s been back and forth to Cleveland and kept in touch with his fellow offensive linemen through a text chain. An unrestricted free agent, Hubbard signed a one-year contract in March and said he never considered joining another team.
“No. For me, my decision was based on the people that love me. And the Browns, they love me, I love them, the feeling is mutual,” Hubbard said. “I didn’t have any outside interest in signing anywhere else.”
Hubbard expressed his appreciation for Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, who said last season that the team missed Hubbard both on the field and in the locker room.
“I love coach Stefanski,” Hubbard said. “He’s always a transparent guy. He’s always going to give you the real, very hands-on. That’s one thing I love as a coach, he’s always figuring out better ways to get better. Not just with one group, but all of us, he’s paying attention to every detail.”
Stefanski was likely one of the supporters who helped Hubbard when he was hurt in September. At first, Hubbard thought it was a bone bruise.
“I didn’t think it would be like my tricep being torn. I didn’t think it was that serious,” Hubbard said. “I tried to play through it every week. I was doing rehab and was trying to get stronger. But during the course of it, I felt like my tricep was worse.
“I remember one day I had to go out there and practice. We warmed up and I hit the pad and I was like, ‘Man, there’s no way I can play in a game physically like this.’ It was my health over everything at that point. I love the game of football. I love to do things I love and help out in any kind of way possible. I just didn’t want to risk it.”
Hubbard was at the game at Baltimore on Nov. 28, when right tackle Jack Conklin ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee a day after his activation from a dislocated left elbow. There's no guarantee Conklin will be ready to start training camp. Left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. battled a sprained ankle for the early part of the season and showed inconsistency in his second year.
Those injuries, along with quarterback Baker Mayfield tearing the labrum in his left shoulder in Week 2, contributed to the Browns’ 8-9 season.
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“It was rough because I felt I could have helped out in some way,” Hubbard said. “I feel like me stepping in as one of those relief pitchers, coming in and making sure the job is secure, that we come out and win this game.”
The Browns made a stunning and controversial trade for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson on March 18. Center JC Tretter was released after five seasons in Cleveland and former Seahawks starter Ethan Pocic was signed to a one-year deal to compete with Nick Harris for Tretter's job.
There have been changes, but Hubbard is ready to bond with this “special group” and reconnect with the offensive linemen.
“We are a group. We need each other,” Hubbard said. “If we’re out of synch, the whole line looks bad.
“I’m just excited to get back and see the fellas and get in a groove with them.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Browns Chris Hubbard back after two surgeries in 16 months