The Browns spent last week coaching the Senior Bowl's South team in what was a chance for Cleveland to get an extra, in-depth look at some of the country's top NFL Draft prospects. But head coach Hue Jackson and his staff seemed to make equally sure they left them with an understanding of life in the league.
One message that seemed to hit home during practices in Mobile, Alabama?
Earning your keep on special teams.
"Any time a player comes into the National Football League, they have to earn their mark throughs special teams," running backs coach and run game coordinator Kirby Wilson said. "Because what I stress to the young guys, when you go to an NFL city, there's already four guys waiting on you who are battle-tested, who have been there done that, played in games, tackled people, run the ball, caught passes, blitz pickup, etc."You have to earn your job by being a great special teams player. And I can't overemphasize that enough to the men that you earn it by special teams … you have to do that."
The Browns, who fielded one of the league's youngest teams this past season, watched a handful of rookies play critical roles on special teams — whether it was returning kicks/punts or on Cleveland's coverage teams.
"In the NFL, it's the best of the best and some of the best college players can't make it in the NFL. The sooner they can figure out that, at the end of the day there's only 53 people on the roster, then it goes down on gameday to 46 and then you start subtracting, there's gonna be seven offensive linemen up, two to three quarterbacks up, the defensive line might have six guys, the numbers that you start figuring out in order for me to play, everyone's going to play on special teams," special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said.
"The more you can do the longer you can stay, the longer you can stay the more money you can make and that's what I try to impress upon the kids but it's a way also for kids to extend their careers. I've seen a lot of good players play longer than what they should because they become really good special teams players and their value increases. At the end of the day, everybody — coach, player, personnel person — you want to increase your value in the org and special teams is a way to do that."
And since it sometimes takes time for younger players to understand that dynamic, the Browns coaches tried to preach it last week.
"I think the young guys coming in don't always understand that because they've never done that. They've always been the man, pop warner, high school, college — they've never done it. So it's an eye opening experience for them," Wilson said.
"And in the past when you talk to them about that, usually they're looking at you like you've got a fork sticking out of your head. 'What do you mean special teams?!' But they quickly learn and they adapt — the good ones do — that I've got to do it this way."