BEREA — Demetric Felton Jr. doesn’t complain about his dual role as a running back and wide receiver, but he has an advocate if he needs one.
Browns run game coordinator/running backs coach Stump Mitchell believes Felton is “getting slighted” as he splits time between two meeting rooms. Through 13 days of training camp, Felton has been primarily a receiver because of a rash of injuries at the position.
But the way Mitchell talked about Felton on Monday made it sound like the sixth-round pick from UCLA in 2021 has a spot on the 53-man roster.
“I’d like him to be one place or the other, but that’s not the way it is,” Mitchell said. “I’m happy because he’s that guy. We don’t worry if somebody goes down in the running back room, we’ve got Demetric. If somebody goes down in the wide receiver room, we have Demetric.
“That was a great pick for us as a player. For him of course it gets frustrating a little bit because he would like to challenge either in the running back or the wide receiver room. Right now guys get injured and we can’t afford him that opportunity. But we’re so glad to have him because we know we can put him in the game plan. He also returns kickoffs, returns punts. He can do it all for us.”
Felton, 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, caught 18 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns last season and rushed seven times for 24 yards. He also served as a return man, averaging 7.1 yards on 32 punts and 19.1 yards on nine kickoffs.
The Browns upgraded their special teams by signing Pro Bowl returner Jakeem Grant Sr., but he suffered a season-ending torn Achilles on Aug. 9. On Sunday, Felton was fielding kicks at practice and he's continued.
“That was a devastating blow for our team,” Felton said Monday of Grant’s injury. “Guys have to step up. If they give me more return ability, I'm excited for that and looking forward to what I can do.”
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Felton aims to improve those return averages with more experience.
“I did a lot more kick return at UCLA, not much punt return,” Felton said. “Having one year under my belt, definitely learned a lot and ready to get better.”
Mitchell, 63, a running back for the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals from 1981-89, feels for Felton.
“I don’t think anything has been kind of fair for Demetric because he is that ‘tweener. He doesn’t get a chance to spend enough time at receiver or enough time at running back,” Mitchell said. “I think he’s getting slighted. He can play both positions, so we’re glad to have a guy like that. Unfortunately, for him.”
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Felton has taken part in individual drills as a running back, then switched to receiver for the rest of practice.
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“There’s inherent value in having that player who’s able to do both because No. 1 it helps you from a depth standpoint and No. 2 it helps you from the defense having to treat him either as a running back or as a wide receiver,” Stefanski said. “If they do one or the other, you can hopefully have an attack based on their plan.”
Asked what he considers himself, Felton said, "I consider myself a football player whenever anyone asks me that question. Wherever my team needs me, I'll go. Whether it's in the running back room, receiver room, return game, I'm able to do it."
Former Browns running back Eric Metcalf is another who appreciates Felton’s talents. A three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro who spent 1989-94 in Cleveland, Metcalf ranks eighth on the Browns’ all-time receiving list with 297 catches and stands fifth in combined yards (9,108).
Metcalf tweeted Monday that Felton had sent him a picture of the Browns’ indoor field, where a photo of Metcalf hangs alongside one of Hall of Fame receiver Paul Warfield and another of linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. and Bob Golic high-fiving each other.
— Eric Metcalf (@EricMetcalf21) August 15, 2022
“I love when the young guys appreciate the past and are looking to get better,” Metcalf tweeted. “Do your thang #25.”
The Browns have a crowded running back room led by Pro Bowlers Nick Chubb, who has three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, and Kareem Hunt, the 2017 NFL rushing leader. In two starts in 2021, D’Ernest Johnson rushed for 235 of his 534 yards. The Browns also drafted University of Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford in the fifth round in April.
Felton said he didn’t see Ford’s arrival as the end of his time at running back. Ford totaled a combined 102 yards and two touchdowns in Friday’s preseason-opening victory at Jacksonville.
“I never think that way. Jerome's a great back and I'm glad we have him on this team, but I'm always ready for where this team needs me,” Felton said.
Felton knows he has a better opportunity at receiver, with the picture muddled behind four-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper. Felton said zeroing in on one position has helped him.
“That definitely makes it a little bit easier when I know what I have to focus on for that day or for that week,” he said. “There's a lot of opportunity in the receiver room, so I see that I fit there more.”
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That could help the Browns’ running back dilemma, with what seems like a tough decision looming in final cuts on Aug. 30.
“We love tough decisions at every position, trust me … because that makes us a better football team,” Mitchell said. “Everything will work out the way it’s supposed [to]. All these guys believe in God and they believe in themselves. Take it from there.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Browns value Demetric Felton Jr.'s flexibility