Is it possible the 2012 Browns actually have a surplus?
That may be taking it too far with an offense that ranks 29th in total offense, 19th in passing, 25th in scoring and doesn’t have a receiver in the NFL’s top 50 in catches. (Rookie Josh Gordon is 50th in receiving yards with 379.)
But with the return of Mohamed Massaquoi this week from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for five games, the Browns at least have some juggling to do and decisions to make at the position.
“We’ve rotated the receivers throughout the year,” coach Pat Shurmur said Friday. “When we put the plan together, there are certain things they are in for and certain things they are not. We’re used to doing it. We’ll get him back in there as much as we can if he’s active.”
Shurmur wouldn’t reveal any game plan secrets, but Massaquoi said he expects to play Sunday against the Ravens. He was a full participant in practice all week, listed as probable on the official injury report and said he’s “as close” as can be to 100 percent.
Massaquoi gives the Browns six receivers, including rookie Josh Cooper, who was listed as questionable with a thigh injury, and Joshua Cribbs, who spends nearly all his time on special teams. Greg Little, Gordon and rookie Travis Benjamin are the other wideouts.
That’s a lot of receivers for one ball, especially when only two or three are usually on the field at once.
“There will be some challenges, but those are good challenges to have as opposed to who are we going to throw it to now,” coordinator Brad Childress said.
“I’ve told our receivers, ‘What you want to be able to do is become what the quarterback considers his best mismatch,’” Shurmur said.
All six have contributed this season, and each brings a different skill set to the offense.
Gordon (17 catches, 379 yards, 22.3 average, four touchdowns) has the best combination of size and speed and has developed into a deep threat.
Little (22, 249, 11.3, two) is off his pace of 61 catches as a rookie and has dropped some key passes, but has played better the last three weeks and is a willing blocker in the run game. He’s started every game.
Benjamin (eight, 115, 14.4, one) is the fastest player on offense, stretches the field and is dangerous on end-arounds and reverses.
Cooper (six catches, 92, 15.3) is a security blanket for college teammate, good buddy and quarterback Brandon Weeden. Cooper gets open out of the slot and all of his catches have gone for first downs.
Cribbs (six, 54, 9) played six snaps on offense last week and is used mostly as a blocker and for trick plays.
Massaquoi (nine, 145, 16.1) might have the best hands on the team and is a good, reliable route runner. He and Weeden forged a chemistry in training camp and it carried over to a solid start to the season before Massaquoi slipped on a loose piece of sod and partially tore the hamstring Sept. 23 against Buffalo.
“We’re going to continue to ride the wave that we created in OTAs and in camp and continue to go out there and make plays,” Massaquoi said.
“I’ve watched in practice here where they really haven’t lost that feel,” Shurmur said. “I see there’s a pretty good connection there.”
The Browns (2-6) haven’t kept six receivers active for a game this season, but it’s an option for Sunday.
“We have ways to get them all in there,” Shurmur said.
Cooper and Benjamin would be the most likely candidates to be inactive if the coaches decided to keep five on the 46-man gameday roster. Cooper played 14 snaps against the Chargers, and Benjamin four.
Massaquoi is also a possibility, because the team survived without him for five games. He’s also in the last year of his four-year rookie contract, never developed into a top-flight wideout — his career high is 36 catches — and has an uncertain future with the team, while Benjamin and Cooper are rookies.
But Massaquoi opened the season as a starter and is one of the most talented receivers on the roster. Gordon took his starting spot during the injury and likely won’t be asked to give it up, so Massaquoi would play in three-receiver sets, probably out of the slot.
“Just move around and just do whatever I can to help out and just continue rolling,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s production is going to drop. I think it’s just another piece of the puzzle so that we can just continue to grow and produce as a whole.”
Massaquoi’s critics call him injury-prone, but he had missed just three games in his first three years. The month on the bench wasn’t easy to take.
“It’s been very frustrating just because it was a fast start,” he said. “I didn’t expect it to take that long and we’re really starting to catch stride, I think, so I want to be a part of that.
“Hopefully for this last half of the season we can continue and go on and make some noise, so we can achieve some of our goals.”
Maybe with the receivers leading the way.
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