BEREA — Forget running to the concession stand. Don’t even risk racing to the fridge. Punts and kickoffs, normally the perfect opportunity to seek refreshment, will be must-see events Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Miami rookie Ted Ginn Jr. grew up in Cleveland, but it will be the Browns’ Joshua Cribbs trying to defend his home turf in the battle of electric return men.
“I have a job and my job is to provide the field position,” Cribbs said Friday. “I know if I stop him, he won’t be ahead of me in the stats.”
Ginn’s been a big story in Miami and Cleveland this week. The Dolphins passed on quarterback Brady Quinn to draft the former Ohio State star with the ninth pick.
Ginn has only two catches as a receiver, but he’s beginning to find his groove as a returner. After averaging 21.2 yards on kickoffs the first two games, he’s up to 28.5 over the last three, including a season-high 52-yarder last week.
“The last two or three games, he’s looked extremely explosive, confident and you can tell he’s getting better each week,” said Browns special teams coordinator Ted Daisher, who ranked Ginn the No. 1 return man in the draft. “He’s very talented and explosive. You know he’s going to be all excited being back home. We’re going to have to do our very best to kind of contain him a little bit. He’s a dangerous guy.”
Cribbs shouldn’t be ignored. He’s fourth in the NFL with 31.8 yards per kickoff return, including a 99-yard touchdown. Ginn is 16th at 25.3.
“I think last week’s game was an indication as to what people think of Josh,” Daisher said. “I’ve never seen three NFL punts kicked out of bounds like that. That’s an NFL punter over there and he’s kicking it out of bounds. He’s doing it for a reason. He didn’t just mis-hit three balls.”
Cribbs added punt returns to his repertoire this year, but he’s only had four for 44 yards, which isn’t enough to qualify among the league leaders. Ginn ranks 18th with a 7.0 average on nine returns. Cribbs has also excelled on the kickoff and punt coverage units, where he has six tackles.
“Josh gets better every week,” Daisher said. “He might be the only guy in the NFL that does all those roles. He does a great job covering on punt and kickoff.
“Every time I look he is making a play.”
Because Cribbs is one of the Browns’ best coverage guys, he will be responsible for keeping Ginn under control. Ginn’s among the fastest players in the league, so the Browns must stop him before he gets loose.
“We have to stay in our lanes and be on our fundamentals,” Cribbs said.
“A lot of guys don’t realize how fast he is,” coach Romeo Crennel said. “We have to get people in front of him, so he has to stop and restart.”
Daisher said the Browns won’t change their entire approach for Ginn, but “you have an awareness that there’s a talented guy back there.”
“You just have to have some things in your game plan to throw him off,” Daisher said. “Nothing’s better than just getting 10 guys running down there as fast as they can and cover, be in their lanes and be disciplined. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Cribbs’ strong start has him thinking and talking about making the Pro Bowl, and he deserves to be in the discussion. But he knows there’s a lot of season left and a lot of politics in the voting.
“I’m going to make it worth our kickoff return team’s while if I am selected,” he said.
Cribbs has also been gradually worked into the offense. He has one catch and four rushes. Daisher doesn’t mind sharing his star with offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
“We’re all on the same team,” Daisher said. “We’re the Cleveland Browns. Whatever Josh can do, or all of us, to help, that’s what we’ll do. We need to find ways to win games.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.