One of the most inexplicable aspects of the Cleveland Browns' offense before the firings of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley had been the usage of Duke Johnson.
The pass-catching running back, who signed a four-year, $16.3 million contract this offseason, was an afterthought through the first eight weeks. Prior to the firings, Johnson never touched the ball more than six times in a single game and earned two or fewer catches five times.
Despite playing relatively the same amount of snaps in Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Johnson burst out, generating 86 total yards on 10 touches (nine receptions) with two receiving scores.
Johnson's usage under new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens provides optimism the rest of the season.
"It was good to see that with Duke," interim coach Gregg Williams said, via the team's official website. "Just like what we have talked about with other people, I think he can do more and he will. He had a good fire about him, and he will continue to improve too. We need him to improve."
Getting Johnson the ball out of the backfield can help stem the pass rush on Baker Mayfield behind a porous offensive line and force defenders to account for the shifty playmaker. Johnson's ability to make defenders miss in space provides a much-needed asset to the Browns' offense.
"I guess give the other team someone to look at and spy on. It just opens for everyone else," Johnson said. "I think that Nick Chubb went out and ran the ball very well. It opened up play action. It opened up a lot for this team. That is just something that I try to go out and do."
Browns general manager John Dorsey didn't pay Johnson to be a decoy like he was much of the first eight games. Moving forward, the hope in Cleveland is that the one-two punch of Johnson and Chubb can help alleviate the pressure on the rookie passer.
"Duke made a bunch of plays for us," Mayfield said. "Obviously, he is one of our playmakers. Whenever we get a chance to get him going ... those are the types of plays we expect him to have. That is what he is capable of. That is what he has shown time in and time out when you get him involved that much. We have to continue to build on that."