October 25, 2014

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Browns Notes: Travis Benjamin, “The Rabbit,” runs away with AFC special teams player of the week

BEREA – Travis Benjamin once caught approximately 20 rabbits in a day growing up in Belle Glade, Fla. When he told teammates the story last year, a nickname was born.
“The Rabbit” was named AFC special teams player of the week Wednesday. In a 37-24 win over the Bills, Benjamin set a team record with 179 punt return yards, including a 79-yard touchdown. The 179 yards were the most in the NFL since 2004 and rank sixth all time.
“It’s a great feeling, knowing it’s an accomplishment for me, something I just cherish,” Benjamin said. “We’ve got to go out there this week and try to get another one.”
Benjamin entertained reporters with tales of chasing rabbits. He said there are sugarcane fields back home and when the cane is burned, the rabbits scatter and people try to catch them.
“It’s nothing to it once you know the tendencies of what a rabbit’s going to do and when he’ll come out,” Benjamin said. “You can catch ’em and sell ’em or catch ’em and eat ’em. They kind of taste like pork chops to me. So it’s a great meal.”
“The Rabbit” likes his nickname, but “Flash” or “Speedy” would be more accurate. Benjamin is among the fastest players in the league – 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash – and showed it again against the Bills by turning the corner without being touched on a 57-yard return that set up a field goal. The 79-yard touchdown featured speed, vision, cutbacks and a broken tackle.
“That dude, he has something special,” said cornerback Joe Haden, who admitted he can’t keep up. “He’s got special speed. I think his legs are 75 percent of his body.”
“When you grow up chasing rabbits, you’re going to be pretty fast, and he is,” coach Rob Chudzinski said.
Benjamin had a return touchdown in the preseason but got off to a shaky start in the regular season. He lost a muffed punt in Minnesota, struggled to judge others and called for fair catches unnecessarily. Chudzinski resorted to using sure-handed receiver Davone Bess when a fair catch was likely.
“I didn’t sense anything from a confidence standpoint with Travis,” Chudzinski said. “I think just he’s gotten better and improved on it. Hopefully, he can continue to be consistent and that will be the biggest thing.”
Benjamin is second in the league with a 15.1-yard average and 256 total punt return yards. He is the only player with two 50-yard punt returns in a game this year.
Despite those numbers and Benjamin’s desire for more work, Chudzinski isn’t inclined to use him on kickoffs, even though the Browns have struggled. Chudzinski said he’ll stick with receiver Greg Little, while also considering recently acquired running back Fozzy Whittaker.
“On kickoffs, there is a lot more contact, and it’s a little bit different in terms of the return and how you hit those returns,” Chudzinski said.
Cleveland’s special teams have been a strong suit, including punter Spencer Lanning winning the AFC award after Week 3. Benjamin shared the credit with his blockers and has a thank-you planned.
“I thought I’d give them cupcakes,” he said.

NO TRADE PLANNED
Chudzinski again refuted trade rumors involving receiver Josh Gordon.
“I’m not going to get into any specifics about rumors and all those type of things. I will say we are not shopping Josh and we have no plans of trading Josh,” Chudzinski said, echoing his comments from Sept. 23.
Gordon has 18 catches for 303 yards and two touchdowns in three games since returning from suspension. The Browns have won all three. A trade isn’t expected, but ESPN reported Monday the Browns and 49ers have talked.
CEO Joe Banner would consider trading Gordon because he’s believed to be one failed drug test from a year-long suspension. But a team is unlikely to offer the compensation Banner seeks – reportedly a second-round draft pick.

KIND WORDS

Lions coach Jim Schwartz got his start in the NFL as an unpaid intern with the Browns in 1993. He spent three years in the scouting department, which was headed by Michael Lombardi, who’s back as general manager.
“Mike is probably the smartest guy I’ve ever met in the NFL,” Schwartz said on a conference call. “He never needs to look at notes. He’s just one of those guys that can recall every single player, every single game.
“He’s just a really hard-working guy. I certainly learned an awful lot from both Mike and (coach) Bill Belichick.”
Schwartz was one of the grunts who got their start under Belichick, along with former Browns GMs Phil Savage and George Kokinis, former Browns coach Eric Mangini, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff and former Chiefs GM Scott Pioli.
“Pretty much everything I’ve learned about the NFL started right there, whether it be offense, defense, special teams, personnel,” Schwartz said. “Those three years, I was young, I was single, I didn’t have any money. All we did was work 16-18 hours a day for just about 11 months a year. I don’t care who you are, if you do that you’re going to learn something.”

INJURY REPORT
Lions All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson didn’t practice Wednesday after not playing Sunday in a loss to Green Bay. Schwartz was asked if Johnson would play against the Browns.
“I’m certainly not going to tell you guys that. We’ll see,” he said. “A lot of times last year he didn’t practice and played in the game. We obviously want him on the field. He’s one of the best players in the National Football League.”
** Browns outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard (knee) and Quentin Groves (ankle) returned to practice in a limited capacity. Sheard has missed two games and practiced in a brace. Groves has missed three games.
“I feel pretty good, really good,” Groves said. “I’m moving around a lot better.”
Groves suffered a high ankle sprain Sept. 15 against Baltimore and was told the timetable for return was four-to-six weeks. A return Sunday would be four weeks.
“I’ll be ready if my number’s called,” he said. “And if it isn’t, then, hey, I’ll be ready next week.”
** Fullback Chris Ogbonnaya (concussion) returned to practice in a limited role. He left the game Thursday against the Bills.
** Defensive end Billy Winn (quadriceps) didn’t practice.
** Left tackle Joe Thomas (elbow), defensive end Desmond Bryant (illness) and defensive lineman John Hughes (knee) were full participants.
** For Detroit, safety Louis Delmas (knee), cornerback Chris Houston (hamstring), right tackle Jason Fox (knee) and tight end Tony Scheffler (concussion) didn’t practice. Receiver Nate Burleson (forearm) has been ruled out.

EXTRA POINTS
The NFL decided teams will no longer be able to turn down being the subject of HBO’s behind-the-scenes reality show “Hard Knocks” unless they have a new coach, made the playoffs in one of the past two years or have been on the show in the previous 10 years.
“I’m not a big fan of the ‘Hard Knocks,’” Chudzinski said.
** The Browns were awarded $62.5 million from the league at the owners meetings for improvements to FirstEnergy Stadium. The team is planning renovations that are expected to cost around $120 million.
** There’s a chance the Browns could play a game in London next season. The NFL announced Atlanta, Jacksonville and Oakland will “host” games overseas, but the opponents haven’t been determined. The Browns are scheduled to play road games against the Falcons and Jaguars.
** Little pleaded no contest to three traffic violations Tuesday in Cleveland Municipal Court. He was fined $732. The violations were operating without a license, having illegally tinted windows and violating a traffic signal and changing course.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.