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Benjamin capable of providing a spark

Posted Oct 25, 2013

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Travis Benjamin is able to provide a spark to the team with his play on special teams.

All you need is a spark to start a fire.

And Cleveland Browns wide receiver Travis Benjamin has proven, time and again, that he has the ability to provide that spark with his electrifying returns on special teams.

“His speed and his acceleration make him different because he can get to the edge, but he can still knock the ball vertical,” said Chris Tabor, the Browns’ special-teams coordinator. “He’s not a real big guy, but he is fearless. He’s a tough returner and he’s doing a nice job for us.

“Some of his best returns, and no one will ever talk about it, are the ones he’s running up 10 yards, 12 yards and fair-catching because he’s saving a ton of field position. I’ve been real pleased with him. He has unique qualities of speed, fearlessness, and he’s catching the ball well. He’s a good ball reader. Those things have helped him become a very good returner.”

Although Benjamin’s speed is his most recognizable quality, Tabor feels fearlessness is his biggest asset on the field, as the second-year returner stands just 5-foot-10 and weighs 175 pounds.

“It’s a special quality, and not everyone has that quality because it’s not an easy thing to do, say that, ‘I’m going to run up five to 10 yards and catch this ball with 11 guys running after me,’” Benjamin said. “I think it takes a special person, and he does have that quality, which is a great quality and is making him a good one.”

This season, Benjamin is averaging 12.3 yards over 20 punt returns with a 79-yard touchdown in the Browns’ 37-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills, where he broke the franchise record with 179 punt-return yards.

In the fourth quarter of last week’s loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, Benjamin returned a kickoff 86 yards, the fourth-longest in the league this season, and helped set up quarterback Brandon Weeden’s touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Cameron.

“No question, Travis has been a great weapon for us, and is going to continue to be a great weapon for us, but he also understands and the whole unit understands, it’s our job to handle field position,” Tabor said.

“Our job on special teams is just to try and handle and maintain field position and change field position. In the punt-return game or kick-return game, it’s our job to set up our offense, give them opportunities and try to shorten the field. It’s the same way in coverage. If we stall out, the punt team is responsible for getting down there and limiting returns, along with the kickoff coverage.”

In returning the ball 86 yards, Benjamin became the second Browns player to return a kickoff at least 50 yards against the Packers, as running back Fozzy Whittaker had a 56-yard runback earlier in the game.

It was the first time the Browns had two players return a kickoff at least 50 yards in the same game since 1965, and the first time since 1985 that the team had two players accomplish the feat in the same season.

“That was a good accomplishment for the guys, but with our returners, I think the first thing that they’ll tell you is, ‘It’s a collective unit, and the guys up front did a beautiful job blocking on all of the returns,’” Tabor said. “It’s just an area where we’re trying to get better each and every week. That was a positive sign what we did last week.”

The key for Tabor and the Browns is to utilize Benjamin’s speed and elusiveness in spots against teams that struggle on kickoff coverage to preserve his health and effectiveness.

“Our goal is to have multiple returners, so that depending on what their styles are, we can fit them into a game plan and take advantage of what the coverage unit is doing,” Tabor said. “For being a small-frame player, he can be very effective in that return game.”

Over his career, Benjamin has averaged 17.2 yards on 23 punt returns and taken two back for touchdowns, including a franchise record 93-yarder in a 30-7 win over the Kansas City Chiefs last December.

And it is because of the ability to change a game that Tabor believes Benjamin has what it takes to reach Pro Bowl status, just like Chicago’s Devin Hester and Johnny Knox and Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs once did under his direction.

“No question, he has all the ability in the world to do that,” Tabor said. “I’ve never, ever compared a player to another guy because I think each player has their own unique qualities, but he has the qualities and the tangibles to be one of the great ones.”

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