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2012 Position Review: Special Teams

Posted Feb 14, 2013

As ClevelandBrowns.com looks back at the 2012 season, we break down the year position-by-position, and today’s spotlight is on the special teams.

Overview:

Under the direction of Chris Tabor, the Cleveland Browns’ special teams units saw an increased level of production in 2012 and it was reflected in Phil Dawson and Joshua Cribbs’ selections to the Pro Bowl.

For Cribbs, who made the team after originally being a first alternate for the AFC, it was his third appearance in the NFL’s annual all-star game, while Dawson made his first trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.

The Browns gained 1,269 yards on 50 kickoff returns, as opposed to 1,134 yards on 48 runbacks during the 2011 season. Joshua Cribbs’ longest return of the 2012 season was a 74-yarder in the team’s 41-27 loss against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 7, 2012.

In addition to the increased production on kickoffs, the Browns raised their level of success on punt returns. Cribbs returned 38 punts for 457 yards, up from the 388 and one touchdown he had on 34 returns in 2011. As a team, the Browns improved their average punt return to 14.8 yards, up from 11.1 last season.

During the 2012 season, Cribbs moved into fifth place on the NFL’s all-time kickoff return yards list, passing Glyn Milburn’s mark of 9,788 yards in the team’s loss to the Washington Redskins on Dec. 16. Cribbs also passed Cleveland native Desmond Howard for sixth on the NFL’s combined return yards list. Just the sixth player in NFL history to reach 12,000 combined return yards, Cribbs has accounted for 10,015 kickoff return yards and 2,154 yards on punts in eight years with the Browns.

Punter Reggie Hodges fought his way back to the field after missing all of 2011 with a torn Achilles tendon. He averaged 41.8 yards on 90 punts and tied for sixth in the AFC with 29 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Hodges had only four touchbacks out of those 90 punts.

In coverage, rookie defensive back Johnson Bademosi finished the year with a team-high 18 total special teams tackles, including 13 solo stops.

Outstanding Performer:

Dawson played in his first Pro Bowl after converting 29 of 31 field goal attempts and all 29 of the points-after-touchdowns during the 2012 season. He made all 13 of his kicks from at least 40 yards, including a seven of seven mark from 50-plus. Dawson is a league-best 14 of 15 from at least 50 yards in the last two seasons.

Dawson kicked the 300th field goal of his career in a 30-7 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Dec. 9. He is 305 of 363 in his career, and his 84.0 field goal percentage is the best among all NFL kickers with at least 300 career field goals made.

Dawson currently stands first on the team’s list in field goals made (305) and field goal percentage (84.0), second in scoring (1,271 points) and third in games played (215). He trails Lou Groza’s franchise mark for points scored by 78, and is 17 games away from tying Clay Matthews’ mark for games played, 232.

Key Number:

Nine.

In the last two seasons, Cribbs has returned nine kickoffs and punts at least 40 yards, and all of those returns resulted in points for the Browns.

In 2012, Cribbs returned three kickoffs and one punt for at least 40 yards. His 40- and 74-yard kickoff returns at the Giants on Oct. 7 resulted in a pair of Dawson field goals. The next week, Cribbs had a 60-yard punt return that led to a field goal and later, started a touchdown drive with a 44-yard kickoff runback.

What to Watch For:

The development of Travis Benjamin as a wide receiver and special teams returner.

During his rookie season, Benjamin caught 18 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns, including a 69-yard score against the Redskins, but also proved to be a threat in the return game for the Browns.

In the win over Kansas City, Benjamin returned Dustin Colquitt’s 41-yard punt 93 yards for a touchdown and put the Browns in front, 10-7, with 14:40 to play in the second quarter.

Originally, Cribbs had dropped back to return the punt, but Benjamin sprinted back late and Cribbs moved to the line of scrimmage in a play designed for a punt block.

Benjamin fielded the punt at the seven-yard line, ran through the middle of the Chiefs’ coverage unit, got to the Browns’ sideline and crossed back to the middle of the field before getting into the end zone. It was the longest punt return in Browns history, and also, the longest for a touchdown.

Browns Legend Eric Metcalf set the previous mark for the longest punt return score in Browns history with a 92-yarder at Cincinnati on Sept. 4, 1994.

On the season, Benjamin gained 149 yards on three punt returns and 76 yards on three kickoff returns.