October 22, 2014

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Browns notes: Hodges takes special honor in stride

BEREA — Punter Reggie Hodges ranks sixth in the NFL in net average, signed a two-year contract extension last month and was named AFC special teams player of the week Wednesday.

He hasn’t gotten a big head.

“It must be a slow week in the NFL,” Hodges said when asked about the award. “Must not have been a lot going on in (special) teams that week.”

Hodges has been one of the pleasant surprises on the Browns this season. After replacing an injured Dave Zastudil for eight games last season, Hodges has been the full-time punter this year, responding with a career year.

He leads the NFL with 13 punts inside the 10-yard line, is tied for fifth with 23 punts inside the 20 and is sixth with a 39.4-yard net. In the 13-10 win over the Dolphins on Sunday, he averaged 48.7 yards on nine punts, with a season-high net of 43.3 and two inside the 20.

“I think it comes down to experience, comfort level,” said coach Eric Mangini, who had Hodges on the Jets.
“He’s a very talented guy but, like any job you go into, as he’s gotten more time, as he’s gotten more comfortable in the position, I think that’s been a big part of his improvement. There’s been a real journey for him and now there’s some stability in that position for him.”

Hodges has Cleveland’s longest play of the season with a 68-yard run up the middle on a fake punt in New Orleans. But he takes greater satisfaction in landing the ball inside the 10-yard line with his rugby style in which he kicks the bottom third of the ball.

“If you start flirting with slowing down your leg, then you get inconsistent in your swing,” he said. “I can swing as hard as I can, it just doesn’t go that far.

“I wish there was more to it, but it’s just kind of bouncing right.”

I just try to get it high enough so Mike (Adams) and the other guys can get down there to make plays on it. It kinda helps me be part of the defense.”

Hodges has been with eight teams in a six-year career that included two years out of football. He speaks often about his faith and said his first job here is to minister to teammates. He said the contract extension hasn’t relieved any pressure.

“Not at all. That turns it up,” he said. “It makes me want to do better. They’re saying, ‘Yeah, Reggie, you can be our guy.’”

He’s also done a good job as the holder on kicks, putting down high snaps the last two weeks on the winning field goals.

Injury report

Browns rookie quarterback Colt McCoy (ankle) didn’t practice Wednesday, but Mangini said there’s a chance he’ll participate today or Friday. Jake Delhomme’s expected to make his third straight start Sunday in Buffalo.

“There’s a shot for him practicing this week,” Mangini said of McCoy. “I wouldn’t say it’s a slam dunk, but I would say it’s a possibility.

“He did some good work here yesterday, but that’s all very controlled, it’s with the trainers. So it’s different when you’re calling the play, when you’re thinking about reading the coverage, thinking about all those things and just letting your body react. That’s really the next step, and that remains to be seen.”

Linebackers Eric Barton (shoulder), Scott Fujita (knee) and Titus Brown (concussion), tight end Evan Moore (hip) and defensive lineman Shaun Rogers (ankle, hip) also missed practice. Mangini hoped all could return this week, except for Fujita, who’s already missed three games.

Defensive end Kenyon Coleman (knee), receiver/returner Joshua Cribbs (foot), offensive lineman Floyd Womack (knee) and cornerback Eric Wright (knee) were limited. Mangini said he expected Cribbs to be able to play on offense against the Bills. He’s returned kicks the last two games, but took only one offensive snap.

Some like it cold

The Browns’ Florida swing is over. The final four games are in Buffalo, Cincinnati and Cleveland (two). That should mean cold, snow and wind, beginning Sunday against the Bills.

“I love this weather, this is exactly what you’d expect in Cleveland and the teams we’re going to play,” said Mangini, who held practice outside Wednesday. “The extreme cold, the wind, the snow, all those things, to be able to run the ball and stop the run, to be disciplined with a lot of distractions from a climate perspective, that’s important.

“There should be a real home-field advantage for us whenever we play in Cleveland and those weather conditions are like that. It just happens that we have four games in a row here where we’ll have that same type of weather, so I’m looking for the guys to continue to improve on all the stuff that we’ve talked about and then to be able to operate in these conditions at a high level.”

Josh firing is no joke

Mangini and former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels were assistants under Bill Belichick in New England. McDaniels was fired Monday after less than two years in Denver.

“It’s never a fun thing to see,” Mangini said. “He’s a guy that I’ve known for a long time and I’ve been in that spot. I know how hard Josh worked, I know how smart he is and I know him personally.

“In going through the experience, I’ll give the dust a little time to settle and then I’ll definitely give him a call and talk to him and see if there is any way I can help.”

McDaniels didn’t play running back Peyton Hillis much and traded him and a couple of draft picks to the Browns in the offseason for quarterback Brady Quinn. Hillis’ big year was another black mark against McDaniels.

“I thought Josh McDaniels was a great man,” Hillis said. “You talked to him and he seemed real down-to-earth and it seemed like he really cared about his players.

“As far as my playing time, I have no idea. I left it up to Coach McDaniels and I’ll leave it at that.”

Facing a Harvard test

Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard. The school’s alumni might not be thrilled that he said the Ivy League education hasn’t helped him in the NFL.

“If anything, coming into the league hurt me in a sense that people were wondering about how into football I really was, what my dedication level really was,” he said. “I don’t think any of that classroom stuff converts to the field real well.”

Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown said Fitzpatrick’s intelligence shows up during games.

“He’s very smart, obviously, going to one of those brilliant schools,” he said. “You’re not going to really confuse him. You’ve got to go out and execute your game plan.”

Extra points

  • Eric Steinbach (guard) and Cribbs (kick returner) remain atop their positions in the AFC in fan voting for the Pro Bowl.
  • Game balls for the win over the Dolphins went to tight end Benjamin Watson on offense, cornerback Joe Haden on defense and Adams on special teams. Defensive lineman Travis Ivey was practice player of the week.
  • Hillis and offensive lineman Steve Vallos were the only ones brave (stupid?) enough to go without sleeves during practice.
  • Steinbach is sporting a mustache reminiscent of Burt Reynolds in “Smokey and the Bandit.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.