The Cleveland Browns will certainly miss the spark that RB Dion Lewis looked poise to bring as a role-player on offense, but now that he is down with a fractured fibula, there is another area in which his contributions could be sorely missed: kick returns.
I use the term "sorely" loosely -- it's not like Lewis on kick returns was going to define our season. First, kick returners these days don't even get many opportunities to return kicks, since kickers boot them out of the back of the end zone. Second, he doesn't bring the same electricity that a guy like WR Travis Benjamin can to punt returns. Lewis did look like a competent kick returner in limited action this camp and during the preseason, but now Cleveland will have to look for an alternative. Head coach Rob Chudzinski was asked about the position during Wednesday's press conference:
On if DB Johnson Bademosi is the primary kickoff return man after RB Dion Lewis’ injury: "I feel comfortable that we have (WR) Travis (Benjamin). I would really like to see the other guys, including Bademosi. (DB) Buster Skrine has done it before and has been effective, as well. I feel like we have some fallbacks, particularly Bademosi, but any of the other guys that we have there."
On if it is a risk to have Benjamin return kicks: "There is always a risk when you put certain guys out there. Certainly, kickoff return there is more contact in that area. We are going to try to put the best guys out on the field in those situations to go win the game. If Travis happens to be the best guy in that situation, we will do it at that time, as well."
This week's depth chart has not been released yet, but the previous version listed S Johnson Bademosi as being next-in-line after Lewis. My opinion on Bademosi's kick return abilities is this: I have concerns about ball security. He seems to not hold the ball tight to his body on returns, and he hasn't displayed the best set of hands in camp as a defensive back. The fact that Chudzinski said "particularly Bademosi" in relation to a fallback to Lewis would indicate that he'll still get the first crack at being the primary returner.
Even though he didn't directly say it, I think Chudzinski is a little wary about using WR Travis Benjamin on kick returns in fear of him getting hurt. Based on his comments, though, it sounds like they wouldn't hesitate using him in that role over Bademosi if the game was on the line, perhaps. CB Buster Skrine was mentioned again as an "effective" guy, but unless Chudzinski does a major switcharoo with his depth chart, Skrine won't be the guy. The other two players who had been competing for the job were WR Naaman Roosevelt and WR Mike Edwards.
Cleveland could search the waiver wire once final cuts are made, too. Two players who have had a couple of good kick returns this preseason are RB Michael Ford of the Chicago Bears and RB Bobby Rainey of the Baltimore Ravens. Both guys could assist as insurance running backs as well. Another player Cleveland could be watching? Armond Smith. He played for Chudzinski with the Carolina Panthers last year, and did some kick return work for them as well as the Browns in the past. Smith is buried as the fourth running back on the Panthers' depth chart and is behind Ted Ginn Jr as a special teams return man.
Who do you think should be the Browns' kick returner? Vote in the poll below and let us know in the comments section!