Rookies are often expected to make a name for themselves on special teams. Besides starting all 16 games at safety, second-round pick T.J. Ward certainly had an impact on special teams, as he led the team with 15 special teams tackles and 3 assists. If Ward was first, then how did the team's three special teams "aces" -- Nick Sorensen, Ray Ventrone, and Blake Costanzo -- compare to him?
- 15 tackles: T.J. Ward
- 10 tackles: Nick Sorensen
- 9 tackles: Ray Ventrone
- 8 tackles: Mike Adams, Titus Brown, Jason Trusnik, Joe Haden
- 6 tackles: Blake Costanzo
- 2 tackles: Abram Elam, Marcus Benard, Eric King
- 1 tackle: Sabby Piscitelli, Chris Gocong, Chansi Stuckey, Kaluka Maiava, Sam Aiken, Phil Dawson
In 2009, the team's leaders on special teams were Ray Ventrone (11 tackles), Nick Sorensen (10 tackles), Blake Costanzo (9 tackles), and Mike Adams (8 tackles). I anticipate the leaderboard changing back to one of our three "aces" next season, because I don't see the second-year Ward being used on special teams again since he is a starter. Compared to other rookie safeties this year (Eric Berry, 5 tackles and Earl Thomas, 4 tackles), Ward saw a lot more action on special teams.
The Browns will have to make some decisions on their special teams leaders next season. Nick Sorensen is a free agent, and Blake Costanzo is a restricted free agent. Ventrone is under contract for $700,000, and Adams is set to make $1.1 million, according to RotoWorld.
The key for Cleveland is to keep Costanzo, which I imagine they will. He suffered a season-ending groin injury in Week 11 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Cleveland's special teams unit seemed to decline quite a bit after that when it came to covering kicks.
I would also be in favor of putting Joshua Cribbs in as the gunner again next season. His contributions this season were next-to-nothing compared to the past. That isn't necessarily his fault, but if Cleveland drafts a wide receiver, Cribbs' reduced role in that capacity could push him back to a spot where he helps the Browns win the field position game. For the record, Cribbs led the team in special teams tackles in 2007 and 2008 with 17 and 19 tackles, respectively.
Nonetheless, the Browns should be proud of their kickoff coverage this season. Opponents only averaged 17.8 yards per kick return, which ranks best in team history from 1999 onward and first overall in the NFL in 2010. The next best team at covering kickoffs was the Washington Redskins, who yielded 19.0 yards per return.
Opponents averaged 7.1 yards per punt return. That is not as good as 2009's average (6.6 yards per return), but it still ranks third best from 1999 onward and fifth overall in the NFL in 2010.
The other statistic to look at is blocked kicks. Cleveland blocked three kicks this season, with T.J. Ward, Scott Fujita, and Shaun Rogers each getting a piece of the football.
If all of that doesn't make a great case to keep Brad Seely on board as special teams coordinator, I don't know what will.