Position thoughts: Special teams

Posted by Vic Carucci on November 14, 2012 – 5:29 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

This is the last in a series of position-by-position thoughts on the Browns after nine games. In this installment, we take a look at special teams:

>>If the conversation here were limited to only Phil Dawson, the Browns would have an impressive story to tell about their special teams. Dawson arguably is the best kicker in the game, with reliability that is second to none. He has the NFL’s longest active streak (and second-longest of his career) with 23 consecutive successful field-goal attempts, dating back to 2011. Dawson has a knack for making 50-yard tries look like chip shots. Of his 17 field goals this season, nine have been from 40 yards or longer.

>>Opposing kickers are constantly amazed by Dawson’s mastery of the often tricky winds and footing in Cleveland Browns Stadium. That, as much as his remarkable leg strength, has gone a long way toward allowing him to continue to rank as the Browns’ most consistent top performer at age 37 and in his 14th NFL season.

>>The Browns have shown steady improvement in kick coverage since allowing Cincinnati’s Adam Jones to return a punt for a touchdown in Week 2. They rank second in the league, behind the Carolina Panthers, in kickoff yards allowed with an average of 20.4 per game. They’re third in the league by limiting average opposing drive starts to the 19.9 yard line. The Browns twice have kept one of the game’s more dangerous returners, Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones, in check.

>>Given the large number of first- and second-year players on the roster, it stands to reason that the Browns have little experience on special teams. However, with the leadership of veterans such as Ray Ventrone, the coverage units have worked out plenty of the kinks that plagued them earlier in the season.

>>The Browns seemingly are close to having a big return for a touchdown. In his eighth season, Josh Cribbs remains a viable returner. He has 801 yards on 27 kickoff returns and 289 yards on 23 punt returns. Cribbs holds an NFL record for most return yards with one team (9,638). Rookie Travis Benjamin brings a tremendous amount of speed to the return game, and will continue to have greater opportunities.

>>The young players covering kicks are also involved with blocking, and they’re still going through a learning process on what it takes to help with busting a long return … while avoiding penalties.

>>Carucci’s Corner is presented by Panera Bread.

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