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Cleveland Browns’ special teams should benefit from continuity, new talent

Posted Jun 20, 2014

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says stability among the Browns’ kickers is going to help this season.

Start with the kicker.

A year ago, the Cleveland Browns were uncertain about who would fill that spot. And it wasn’t until close to the start of the regular season that veteran Billy Cundiff emerged as the man who would replace one of the team’s all-time greats, Phil Dawson.

The same was true about the punter position until rookie Spencer Lanning finally secured the job.

On July 26, the Browns will begin training camp with the same kicker, punter, and long-snapper (Christian Yount). And that is considered the first key step toward their ability to have a solid special-teams unit this season.

“It feels great, because as you work with those guys, they all have their own, little habits, their own core things that they like to go through,” special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. “Knowing them inside and out, I think it makes our job a little bit easier (when) putting together a game plan and asking them what they can and cannot do. We can make our decisions faster and go with them.

“At the same time, those guys are working really hard and doing a great job developing their games, getting better and better. They have more clubs in their bag, so to speak.”

Things aren’t quite as settled with the return game, but there is reason for optimism there, too.

Travis Benjamin, the Browns’ primary return specialist, is still recovering from a torn ACL that kept him out of offseason workouts, and there’s no definitive date for when he will be ready to fully participate in camp drills.

In the meantime, cornerback Buster Skrine has moved into the No. 1 return role, something he hasn’t done since his days at Chattanooga. The Browns also have a potentially strong option in rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert, who was a standout returner at Oklahoma State.

“I’m excited about it,” Tabor said. “In my three years here, going into my fourth, I think this is probably the first year where we’ve had multiple guys. We’re always developing guys, but I think this is the first time that we have a lot of guys in the stable that we can go to. And that’s something that we’ve always been trying to build up to, because I just don’t believe that you should just have one returner. I believe that you should have multiple returners and each of them have a little different skill set.

“One thing that they all are is very fast. But they all do something a little bit different. And to be able to use their talents and come up with different ways to accentuate their positives, that’s the fun part. So I’m excited about where it’s going and how it’s going to play out. And hopefully we’ll see those results on Sunday.”

Rookies tend to make up the majority of special-teams contributors, and the Browns have reason to think their current rookie class will make a significantly positive impact even though many of the players have little or no special-teams experience.

One example is running back Terrance West, who never played special teams at Towson.

“He’s picking it up really well,” Tabor said. “He’s a guy that’s getting better and better every day. But you can see, every time we’re in the meetings, there are no concepts for him, which as a teacher, it’s fun to watch him grasp it and get better and better at it. We’re excited about how he’s playing, where he’s going.”

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