Browns want Josh Cribbs' return to Cleveland to include no big returns


Sunday's game at FirstEnergy Stadium couldn't be less of a road trip for Indianapolis Colts' return man Josh Cribbs.

It's a homecoming in the city where he still resides.

Cribbs last played for the Browns in 2012, his eighth season with the organization, but his permanent residence never changed. He played six games with the New York Jets in 2013 and, after dabbling in some TV during the first half of the season, has re-energized the Colts' return game over the past two weeks after signing to play with D'Qwell Jackson and a handful of other former Browns.

"I'm just excited to play in front of one of the greatest fan bases in the National Football League," Cribbs said. "I'm just excited to have the opportunity to prove my worth again not only to them but to the fans in Cleveland and to the new organization that I'm with right now."

Cribbs has been strongest on kickoffs, where he returned eight for touchdowns over a five-season stretch with the Browns. On seven kickoffs with the Colts, he's averaged 31.4 yards per return while taking eight punts for an average of 7.6 yards.

Even though he was working from a Cleveland TV studio less than a month ago, Cribbs poses one of the toughest tests of the season for the Browns' special teams units, who have been among the league's best in limiting opponents on punt and kick returns.

"He's tough as nails. His resume speaks for itself," Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "Being in Baltimore for those years and having to defend him on the other side of the football, he's a nightmare. The guy is a great, great player, and he's getting his legs back underneath him. He's gaining steam with every week that he's been here, so he's been a great addition for us."

If Cleveland wants to prevent Cribbs from returning kicks altogether, it will probably need the ball to go completely out of the end zone. That was Cribbs' style during his days in Cleveland and little's changed in Indianapolis, as he took his first kick from about 9 ½ yards deep in his own end zone.

Browns special teams coach Chris Tabor, who coached Cribbs for his final two seasons in Cleveland, cracked a smile when he was asked if his players would be prepared for a return no matter how the ball is kicked.

"It's coming out," he said.

Cribbs said his time away from the NFL "ate me up" and it was hard to even sit in front of a TV on Sundays. He only decided to pursue opportunities outside of Cleveland after receiving "permission" from Browns fans.

"I played 110 percent every time I step on this field for them. I'm hoping that it will be one of the positive notes," Cribbs said. "I received a lot of positive feedback on social media from the people in Cleveland and the community. They didn't care where I went. They were going to still support me. That's what I'm hoping for. You will definitely see me in the stadium hugging fans, and if I had the opportunity to score I would jump in the Dawg Pound to honor those guys who helped create me. They helped give me the strength and the motivation to become what I am today."

Cribbs stressed he'd need to get the OK from Browns fans beforehand if he really were to voyage into enemy territory.

Browns coach Mike Pettine called on Browns fans Thursday to self-police the situation.

"We don't want anybody with a horseshoe on their helmet in the end zone, doesn't matter who they are," he said. "We're hopeful that they would be greeted appropriately by the Dawg Pound if those circumstances did occur."

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