Today's special teams preview for training camp will be a little bit different than the other ones we've been running. We already covered kicker and punter, but we still have long snapper, the return game, and coverage units left to cover. Those areas are covered in today's general special teams preview, but the only position that will have a profile is long snapper -- the other areas will just have general notes listed.
1. CHARLEY HUGHLETT - LONG SNAPPER
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 248
Age: 25 | Experience: 1 year
College: Central Florida
Note: Was signed last year as competition to Christian Yount. ... Only long snapper on the roster.
Christian Yount, who was the team's long snapper for a couple of years, was waived earlier this offseason, presumably because of the poor season he ended up having in 2014.
When Yount's slump started last September, the Browns signed Charley Hughlett to their practice squad after putting him through a tryout. The Browns waived him from their practice squad in October, and then he spent some time on the Patriots' and Chiefs' practice squads. For the final week of the season, the Browns signed Hughlett off of the Chiefs' practice squad. It was a smart Week 17 move, because it means that Cleveland could own the rights to him for 2015.
In terms of NFL experience, Hughlett has been trying to be a team's long snapper since 2012, but this is as close as he's come to nailing a job down. If he has a consistent camp snapping the ball, the Browns will have no reason to look elsewhere. But, if he isn't cutting it, special teams coordinator Chris Tabor has hinted that they will keep tabs on Yount:
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.
Final Roster Odds: 80%
KICK / PUNT RETURNER
Punt Returner: The job is safe and secure with WR Travis Benjamin, as long as he makes the roster. Tabor has said that he believes that Benjamin's issues on returns last year was more of a confidence issue coming back from an ACL injury, and that he fully believes in his talent.
If Benjamin doesn't make the roster, than WR Taylor Gabriel is the frontrunner to return punts. Tabor is very happy with how Gabriel has developed on punt returns, and he attributes the progress to Gabriel working on fielding them as a backup last year:
"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 process of going through last year of catching punts during practice and before practice. He looks good."
Other players who could see action as the punt returner are S Jordan Poyer, RB Duke Johnson, and WR Shane Wynn.
Kick Returner: Last year, WR Marlon Moore was the team's featured kickoff returner. This year, Tabor isn't even bringing his name up in regards to kickoffs, despite him still being on the roster. Although Moore is an option at kick returner, the team clearly prefers to go a different direction.
The top three candidates for the role are RB Duke Johnson, CB Justin Gilbert, and CB Charles Gaines, with Johnson probably being the frontrunner. Tabor has also said that Benjamin will be in the mix at the position, but it sounds like he would come in if the team needed an extra spark. Based on his college play, WR Shane Wynn could also see some action on kick returns in camp.
The top two players in special teams tackles for the Browns last year were S Jordan Poyer (10) and WR Marlon Moore (9). ILB Tank Carder, CB K'Waun Williams, and ILB Chris Kirksey each had 6 special teams tackles; S Johnson Bademosi and ILB Craig Robertson each had 5. S Jim Leonhard also played a key role on special teams last year -- he only had 1 tackle, but had 7 assists.
Rookies like S Ibraheim Campbell, CB Charles Gaines, FB Malcolm Johnson, and ILB Hayes Pullard will need to prove that they can be assets on special teams to make the roster. Campbell is the most secure, since he's a fourth round pick and because Leonhard retired after last season. Players like Gaines and Pullard could be in competition with the likes of Moore, Bademosi, or Carder. Those guys are already very good special teams contributors, so it's going to be difficult to unseat them.
The Browns were 8th in punt return average and 9th in kick return average last year. Part of that was attributable to their solid special teams coverage. Last year's group, except for Leonhard, will be back, which is a good sign. A few changes could arise due to the 53-man roster being deeper, though. For example, the Browns are likely to carry at least six receivers, not including Moore. If they carry Moore, he'd be a seventh receiver and likely wouldn't be on kickoffs any more. Do the Browns have room for a "gunner only" on the 53-man roster this year?