Cleveland Browns special teams coordinator Chris Tabor spoke to the media on the final day of minicamp. Here's what the veteran coach had to say:
- Close Kicker Competition: Ever since the Browns parted ways with good ol' Phil Dawson, the kicker position has been a revolving door. Billy Cundiff opened 2014 as the team's kicker, before eventually losing his job to Garrett Hartley. At the end of the season, the Browns signed Casey Spear and Travis Coons, leading the team to cut Hartley. The remaining competition between Spear and Coons is a good one, and the Browns are keeping an eye on the situation:
"We're charting these kicks during the whole competition. This goes back to when we started the offseason. We kind of took a couple of weeks to get into the groove a little bit, let them get their swing and feel comfortable. Then we said, 'Hey the competition has started.' And we charted everything. We've kept a running tab on that and it's been a very close competition."
- Why Cut Hartley? According to Tabor, the devil you know isn't necessarily better than the devil you don't know. Hartley was a known commodity, while the two rookies were not, so the Browns wanted to find out what they had in Spear and Coons.
"Sometimes it comes down to a numbers game in the offseason. You go back up to 90 guys. If there's injuries that start taking place and you need to get some guys in here for different reasons, fresh legs, [etc.], and you're heavy in the specialist area, that's going to be the first area where they're going to look to trim. Garrett's a good kicker, I have a lot of respect for him, but at the same time, we know what he is and who he is, but we really didn't know about the two young guys. So this kind of gives them an opportunity for them to compete for a job."
- Outkicking the Coverage: While Cundiff couldn't always hit critical field goals, he did do an excellent job of preventing opposing returners from picking up yards. Cundiff often kicked the ball into the end zone on kickoffs, a valuable skill to the special teams unit. Spear and Coons do not have this ability, which might lead to some concern. Tabor isn't too worried, though:
"I have confidence in the guys who will go down and cover. We're still going to play to the strength of that player, but if he's not as deep as Billy Cundiff. With Cundiff, before we let him go, I think he had 40 touchbacks. We might not hit that number. If we don't, hangtime, if it doesn't go as far, but if it's at six or seven yards out with a 4.1 hang time, it will still put the return man in a bind. 'Do I bring it out?' because the guys running down have the ability to cover. We'll play to the strength of the player and design it around that."
- What Happened to Yount? The Browns had Yount locked down until 2017 before releasing him on May 29. Yount did botch some snaps last year, but why eschew him for rookie Charley Hughlett)?
"Christian was competing and doing well, but then it came down to another numbers thing at the time. With Charley, we feel really good about him, he's doing a nice job for us. It's one of those things. It's tough to have two long snappers and two kickers and one punter on the roster ... Christian is a guy who we know what he can do, who he is. He's still working at his craft. Just because you're not here doesn't mean I've forgotten about you. We will keep tabs on him."
- Punt It, Punt It Real Good: The Browns recently traded for veteran punter Andy Lee, a former stud for the 49ers. Tabor and the Browns coaching staff seem stoked to have a punter with a big boot.
"[Lee] is a four-time Pro Bowler. Obviously, this is his 12th season, so obviously he has the experience and has played in a lot of big games. He has a big leg. I know he's showcased that a few times, but right now, he's just in the process of getting back. Lots of times, when guys are going into their 12th or 13th year, they don't start kicking as early as some of the young guys. He's just now beginning to work himself into shape. As we go into the preseason, it'll be a deal where we don't need him to be perfect in preseason game #1, we just need him to build it up so he's ready when we play the Jets."
- Teachable Taylor: Taylor Gabriel is just about ready to return punts. Tabor and his staff have been training Gabriel for punt return duties, and Gabriel seems just about ready to Tabor.
"Yes, he's been one of the guys we've been developing for a long time. He's gotten so much better at it; he looks so comfortable doing it right now. Where's he at now is because of the whole processof going through last year of catching punts during practice and before practice. He looks good."
- Duke of the Kick Return: Duke Johnson is not quite ready to step in as a punt returner. The running back out of Miami is prepared to take back kicks, though. Johnson returned 42 kicks as a Hurricane, averaging 30 yards per return.
He's developing as a punt returner. He is a kick returner, but we're trying to work with him to be both. It's kind of like the Taylor Gabriel situation.
- Extra Headache: The extra point attempt will become a bigger piece of strategy for not only the Browns, but the entire league. Tabor doesn't seem to be looking forward to the added responsibility:
"I think there will be a lot of factors that go into it. We will discuss those factors before the game, we discuss them again at halftime. I don't think it will be any different. I just think that you'll see teams going for all out blocks, going after it more, and the pressure to make the kick will be higher."