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Starters on special teams: Bubba Ventrone, urgency or both?

Seeing Juan Thornhill and JOK on opening kick coverage was strange

Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns are as close to “all in” as you can get without totally blowing up the salary cap and future draft capital. Obviously, GM Andrew Berry gave away a ton of draft assets to get QB Deshaun Watson, as well as a big contract, but he hasn’t gone into the “F them picks” model of the Los Angeles Rams.

With a loaded roster and high expectations, the urgency for HC Kevin Stefanski and Berry may not be as real as fans believe it to be but it is certainly there.

In the team’s second preseason game, new special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone made some interesting decisions that could indicate the urgency the team feels. While kicker Cade York will be the big story, Ventrone’s use of starters is something to watch.

It started with the opening kickoff when starting safety and free agent acquisition Juan Thornhill made the tackle. Starting LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was also noted on that coverage team.

A look at the snap counts shows a few important players participated in special teams this week along with Thornhill and JOK:

  • Donovan Peoples-Jones
  • Cedric Tillman
  • David Bell
  • Rodney McLeod
  • Martin Emerson

While the Browns only risked those players on a few snaps, it will be interesting to see if having starters on special teams is something Ventrone will have during the regular season. Having talented defenders trying to make tackles on kick coverage units makes sense but it also comes with risk.

In general, the NFL has regulated the return game in such a way that it is rarely impactful. The risk of injury is still there but the ability to create long returns is mostly gone. Putting starters in harm's way with such a low reward for doing so is concerning.

Perhaps, Cleveland just wanted to give those players a little experience in case they are needed in the regular season. Perhaps Ventrone believes the best players should be on special teams, risk be darned. Perhaps Berry and Stefanski have such urgency that they are willing to do whatever it takes to make every phase of the game as good as it can be.

What do you think of starters/stars playing on special teams regularly? Is it worth the risk?