When I wrote this piece one year ago today, it was about how rookie safety T.J. Ward led the 2010 Cleveland Browns with 15 special teams tackles, finishing ahead of the likes of Blake Costanzo, Nick Sorensen, and Ray Ventrone. For various reasons, none of those guys were even in the top five on the Browns this offseason, which certainly (along with the removal of special teams coach Brad Seeley) hurt the team's production on special teams.
Who led the Browns in special teams tackles in 2011? That would be Joshua Cribbs, who finished the year with 10 special teams tackles. He last led the team in 2007 and 2008. In 2009 and 2010, he was more involved as a receiver and a returner. Despite being injured this year and not being on special teams coverage for every game, he still managed to lead the team. The guy's got great instincts. The rest of the team's leaders in 2011 are listed after the jump.
- 10 tackles: Joshua Cribbs
- 8 tackles: Kaluka Maiava, Quinton Spears
- 7 tackles: Buster Skrine
- 4 tackles: Usama Young
- 3 tackles: Dimitri Patterson, Mike Adams, Titus Brown, Raymond Ventrone
- 2 tackles: James Dockery, Owen Marecic, Chris Gocong
- 1 tackle: Emmanuel Stephens, T.J. Ward, Eric Hagg, Marcus Benard, Greg Little, Chris Ogbonnaya, Alex Smith, Phil Dawson, Ryan Pontbriand
A couple of things stand out. Last year, the Browns had seven players with eight tackles or more. This year, that number fell to three. Why? Obviously, special teams coverage became less of a factor on kickoffs. With more touchbacks in the mix, there were less opportunities to record tackles (hence the asterisk * needed for year-to-year comparisons). Cleveland only had 64 special teams tackles in 2011, a dropoff from the 88.4 special teams tackles they averaged over the previous five years. It should be noted that the number could also have been lower due to the offense not scoring often, and hence not having to kick the ball off as much (but...you do still have to punt).
Looking at the list above, the Browns need to find some dedicated special teams aces next season. They hurt at times from not having a Sorensen or Costanzo, because Ventrone never really seemed to stand out by himself. Cribbs is obviously a machine, but there's always that ambition to get him more involved in the offense. Skrine seemed to have a couple of nice moments as a gunner on special teams, but it seems like we're missing that one linebacker or safety who exclusively fulfills the role of being a special teams captain. That was sort of the advantage the Browns lost (at least at linebacker) by switching to a 4-3 defense, but if the right guy is out there, a roster spot should be made available to him.