BEREA — Joshua Cribbs, the NFL’s all-time leader with eight kickoff returns for touchdowns, has been a vocal critic of the new kickoff rules since they were announced in March. He still doesn’t like the decision to move the kick forward 5 yards to the 35-yard line but says he will succeed anyway.
“Good returners will take advantage of it,” Cribbs said Wednesday following practice. “There will be good schemes. Coach (Chris) Tabor has done a very good job at scheming and we’re gonna look pretty good this year on kickoff return.”
With the extra 5 yards, there were touchbacks on 33.9 percent of kickoffs in the first 15 games of the preseason, an increase from 16.4 percent during the 2010 regular season, according to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. Cribbs said he’ll establish a personal rule of when to take a knee and send the ball to the 20-yard line.
“Anything above 9 yards I’ll probably keep it in,” he said.
He might have been joking. It was hard to tell. The end zone is 10 yards deep, and in the past 5 yards deep was considered too risky for a return.
“Even on punt returns, I’m not a big fair-catch guy,” he said. “I just want to get positive yards.
“I’m going to be smart and help our team. They’re aware each time is a possibility. I’m going to decide if I’m going to keep it or not.”
When Cribbs saw the new rule in action during the first week of the preseason, he immediately tweeted.
“I see an immediate amendment on the kickoff rule either b4 the end of the year or beginning of next year bc without that part of the return game it might as well be a scrimmage….” he tweeted.
Cribbs wasn’t on the return teams Saturday night in the preseason opener against the Packers. There was one touchback in 10 kickoffs, but Cribbs believes the return game will suffer.
“With the touchbacks, you’re taking it out of the returners’ hands and there won’t be those record-setting guys,” Cribbs said. “I want somebody to come chase my record. I want to be able to chase it as well and I feel like that will take it out of (the equation).
“I think there will be a lot of inside the 20-yard-line tackles this year. A lot of returners will get tired of taking a knee in the end zone and will try to bring it out. Guys are getting down there faster. Kickers are hanging the ball up there. That’s what you can look for, touchbacks and inside the 20 tackles.”
The reason for the change is player safety. The competition committee feels the high-speed collisions lead to too many injuries that can be avoided.
“Their intentions are good, but the stats aren’t there to back up the reasoning,” Cribbs said. “They weren’t seeking advice from players or former players.”
Stars to sideline
It’s never good to see three of your best starters stop practicing with injuries, but coach Pat Shurmur downplayed the problems of running back Peyton Hillis, left guard Eric Steinbach and safety T.J. Ward.
“Steinbach’s back tightened up on him a little bit so we took him inside, just precautionary,” Shurmur said. “T.J. Ward felt his hamstring a little bit, again, precautionary there. Peyton Hillis, at the end of practice, felt his hamstring just a little bit.
“This is the time of year when you start to get some soft-tissue injuries. I wouldn’t call those injuries yet.”
Steinbach wasn’t on the field for the afternoon walkthrough. Ward participated while Hillis watched.
Pinkston steps in
Rookie Jason Pinkston, a fifth-round pick out of Pittsburgh, had spent camp out of the limelight until Steinbach left practice. Pinkston was elevated to first-team left guard for the remainder of practice.
“He’s in there and he’s ready to go,” Shurmur said. “Depending on this weekend, he’ll get more work than he might have had Steinbach not developed this back whatever.”
Pinkston is 6-foot-4, 305 pounds. He has experience at tackle, but has been working at guard.
With Ward and Young sidelined, the Browns turned to James Dockery to join the first-team defense. Not only is Dockery an undrafted rookie, he spent the first two weeks of camp as a cornerback.
“He’s shown up well at corner,” Shurmur said. “Much like any backup role player, you’ve got to get it done on special teams and then you have to be somewhat flexible. For a guy that’s caught our eye in some ways, to be able to line up at safety is a good thing.”
Dockery said he played free safety as a freshman at Oregon State but hasn’t played a game there since high school in 2006. He moved to cornerback as a sophomore when Browns cornerback Coye Francies transferred to San Jose State.
Day 18 at Browns camp
NEWS OF THE DAY: Coach Pat Shurmur called them minor injuries, but it’s noteworthy when running back Peyton Hillis (hamstring), left guard Eric Steinbach (back) and safety T.J. Ward (hamstring) stop practicing — even if it is precautionary. The three are now questionable for Friday’s preseason game against the Lions. Shurmur said the starters will likely play close to a half.
CAMPER OF THE DAY: We’ve got a repeat winner, as tight end Evan Moore stood out yet again. Two plays pushed him over the top. Moore snatched a pass over the middle from Colt McCoy with one hand, as if the ball had been dipped in glue. The ball stuck, he pulled it to his body and kept running. The other grab was a twisting touchdown from McCoy with DeAngelo Smith in coverage. Moore got up a little gimpy but remained in drills.
PLAY OF THE DAY: Backup kicker Jeff Wolfert split the uprights and almost split the leg of the videographer taping from the hydraulic lift. The ball flew onto the lift — about 50 feet in the air — and hit the videographer’s leg, but he was fine.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “If he can stay healthy, he has the ability to be a really, really — I’m not gonna say great yet — good quarterback.” — Cornerback Sheldon Brown on McCoy.
POINT OF INTEREST: The Browns ran 50 plays inside the red zone in seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills. As has been the case throughout camp, the tight ends stole the show. Moore, Jordan Cameron and Alex Smith all caught touchdown passes. “That’s a very important part of the game,” Shurmur said of the red zone, “being successful there whether you’re scoring touchdowns or preventing the scores. I felt like that competition was good.”
TODAY’S SCHEDULE: The Browns won’t practice. They host the Lions on Friday night at 7:30.