"The Sunday Five" is a loosely-titled piece where I talk about five NFL- or Browns-related topics related to this past week. In today's edition, I take a look at some of the team's special teams concerns.
After three preseason games, it seems as though the Cleveland Browns' special teams unit will take a step back this year. In the first couple of games, punter Richmond McGee was the central reason for concern because of the number of short punts he was having. Against the Philadelphia Eagles, three special teams blunders really ruined any chances the team had of staying competitive in the game. Is there really a reason to be too concerned though? I don't think so.
Have any teams broken a big kickoff or punt return off of the Browns yet? It doesn't seem like it, even if touchbacks have had an effect on that. I know this is a very small sample size, but in this year's preseason, the Browns currently rank fourth in the league at defending punts, yielding just 3.7 yards per return. On kickoffs, the Browns rank near the middle of the league at 17th overall, yielding 25 yards per return. I think we have
What about when it comes to returning kickoffs? Consider the fact that Joshua Cribbs has not returned one kick of punt in the preseason. Early in camp, he looked much more explosive than he did a year ago. On punts, Jordan Norwood has looked very good. This is a complete coincidence, but the Browns also rank 4th best in the league at returning punts (10.7 average) and 17th best in the league on kickoffs (24.7 average). In an ideal world, the punt return average stays the same and the kickoff average improves upon Cribbs' return.
Obviously, you don't want Sheldon Brown running into your punt returner to cause an injury or a fumble, but how often do you really think something like that is going to happen in the regular season? Sometimes players get blocked into the returner, but I don't think I've ever seen a trip like that. The biggest concern of the game was the blocked field goal off the edge. I didn't catch who was at fault for that, but I trust that the special teams coaches will get together and make sure whoever is over there doesn't let it happen again.
I think we're still looking for that "special teams ace." Right now, that player he Ray Ventrone. Ventrone has proven to be an asset on special teams, but I would've ranked Blake Costanzo (now with Brad Seeley and the 49ers) and Nick Sorensen (a free agent) ahead of him. It's probably true that less "aces" are needed on kickoff coverage now because of the new kickoff rules. Through three preseason games, the Browns have three players with two special teams tackles, and 14 players with one tackle yet. That's not a lot to go off of as a fan.
It's a shame that Titus Brown has a high ankle sprain right now, because I think he can morph into the team's ace. It'd also be nice to see fullback Owen Marecic -- who has some experience at linebacker -- step up on special teams as well. There has been no mention of Joshua Cribbs returning to the gunner position, so I wouldn't get my hopes up for that.