BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Kareem Hunt ran back to the Browns sooner than expected.
The suspended star returned to the team and practiced Monday after serving only six games of an eight-game NFL suspension for two violent off-field altercations that threatened to end his playing career.
Hunt has been observed since August by the league, which had banned him from the Browns’ facility for the past two-plus months.
“We have been monitoring his progress during the suspension,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email to The Associated Press. “He is permitted to return to team activities, including practice. He is not permitted to play in or attend games until after the team’s eighth game. The time with the team enables him to re-acclimate himself and engage in conditioning work and practices.”
Typically, suspended players don’t rejoin their teams until the Monday before they’re eligible to play. The 24-year-old Hunt, who led the league in rushing in 2017 as a rookie with Kansas City, can play on Nov. 10, when the Browns host the Buffalo Bills.
Hunt looked agile during drills in the portion of the workout open to media. He underwent surgery on a sports hernia on Aug. 29.
“I thought he looked good,” coach Freddie Kitchens said. “He looks like he is in good shape. He moved around good. It is always good to get good players back.”
Guard Joel Bitonio said seeing Hunt on the field was a pickup for the Browns, who visit New England on Sunday.
“It was really cool,” he said. “I know he’s tried to work his tail off to get back and be healthy for us. And now I know he has a couple weeks where he’s going to figure it out, but it was cool. He did mostly scout team stuff today and he had some good runs and some nice cuts and it was really just good to see him back out there and working.”
After practice, Hunt chatted with teammates while sitting at his locker and was seen in the team’s weight room doing squats. He did not speak to reporters.
Hunt’s suspension stems from his physical confrontations, one in which he pushed and kicked a woman during an argument in the hallway of a Cleveland hotel in 2017. The Chiefs said Hunt lied to them about the incident, which was captured on video, and released him with a few games left in the season.
The Browns signed him in February before the league concluded its investigation and suspended him in March for violating its personal-conduct policy.
Hunt has been receiving counseling since joining the Browns, who are counting on his relationship with general manager John Dorsey to help keep him from further trouble. Dorsey drafted Hunt, a Cleveland-area native who played college football at Toledo, when he was the Chiefs’ GM.
The Browns will have one of football’s best two-back tandems once Hunt is eligible to play. He’ll complement Nick Chubb, who leads the team with 607 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
The pair have connected off the field, and Kitchens trusts their bond won’t be threatened by potentially sharing any playing time.
“I would expect and I know that the dynamic of them would not change,” Kitchens said. “They would continue to be friends. I think those are two individuals that you have no doubt in your mind that they are here to win football games. Whatever it takes to do that, they would be willing to do.
“I have total confidence that is the way both of those guys feel, and that is what I expect.”
Notes: QB Baker Mayfield returned to practice after resting a bruised left hip last week. Mayfield got hurt when he got hit while scrambling in a loss to Seattle. “He looked good today — focused, concentrated, threw the ball well and moved around well,” Kitchens said. “He is good to go.” … The Browns are expected to make a change at starting left tackle against the Patriots, with Justin McCray likely replacing Greg Robinson. Kitchens did not announce any switch but said he believes McCray could handle the spot if called upon. “Justin is one of our more versatile guys,” he said. “If he were to go out there at tackle, I would have total confidence in him.”