Browns' Specialized Triple Threat

Browns' kicker, punter and long snapper among the best in the NFL.

On one hand, the following paragraph is a prime example of the Cleveland Browns during the expansion era.

Is there a better special teams trio in the NFL than place kicker Phil Dawson, punter Reggie Hodges and long snapper Ryan Pontbriand?

On the other hand, those three have not helped the Browns win many games, as evident by the team's sub-.500 win-loss record the last 11 seasons. Meanwhile, teams that boast the best quarterbacks (Green Bay's Aaron Rogers, New Orleans' Drew Brees and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning) or teams with the best defenses (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Tampa Bay) win Super Bowls.

That aside, now is as good a time as ever to celebrate Dawson, Hodges and Pontbriand.

On Feb. 22, the Browns placed their franchise tag on Dawson, the only player left from 1999. Fittingly, he was the first player the Browns used that tag on since their return.

Whether or not the franchise tag will stick depends on the collective bargaining negotiations currently taking place. As it stands now, Dawson will receive a $2.25 million raise from his $1 million salary last season.

On Jan. 2, as the Browns once again were getting blown out by Pittsburgh in the regular season finale 41-9, many thought that would be Dawson's final game in a Browns uniform. He had a successful 2010. He passed Lou "The Toe" Groza for most field goals in team history and joined Groza and Don Cockroft as the only players to reach 1,000 points. Dawson has joined some impressive company considering the Browns practice facility in Berea is located on Lou Groza Boulevard.

More importantly, Dawson's success occurred in Cleveland, which is not considered an easy place to kick field goals. Ask Carolina's John Kasay. But kicking good field goals is just what Dawson does. Last season, Dawson, 36, made 23-of-28 and all 28 extra points. He is a career 83.2 percent kicker, which puts him ninth-best in NFL history.

He has had some memorable game-winning kicks against the Browns' two biggest rivals: Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

The best player since the Browns return has been a place kicker. Somewhere in there is a Jay Leno-esque joke.

Speaking of punch lines, the Browns set themselves up to be one in 2003 when the team's head coach and general manager, Butch Davis, drafted Pontbriand with the 142nd overall pick. He was only the 12th long snapper to get drafted since 1982 and there hasn't been one since

Yes, the Browns selected a long snapper in the fifth round. He is the highest-drafted long snapper in the history of the NFL Draft.

Yet for all the potential punch lines, when was the last time the Browns had a bad snap on a field goal, extra point or punt? In fact, Pontbriand has been a two-time Pro Bowler in 2007 and 2008. Bottom line: The dude can long-snap a football.

As far as punters, who can forget CBS cameras catching former Browns punter Chris Gardocki giving the middle finger to the Steelers bench on Sept. 17, 2000. Gardocki would have been a folk hero on the north coast for the rest of his life, but four years later, he signed with the Steelers and won a Super Bowl with them in 2006. Boo.

With all due respect to Dawson, Gardocki may have been the Browns' MVP during those early seasons. Again, the team's two best players early on were a punter and a kicker.

The Browns offense didn't get in scoring position often. As a result, during the four seasons Gardocki was in Cleveland, he punted 466 times for an average 7.2 times a game.

Two years after Gardocki left for the dark side, the Browns signed Dave Zastudil to a free agent contract and his punting recalled the glory days of Gardocki. Zastudil was darn good. Midway through 2009, Zastudil suffered a right knee injury. He tried to come back last season, but was placed on IR after knee problems resurfaced.

Hodges came in relief of Zastudil and performed well.

Hodges finished 2010 with 29 punts inside the 20-yard-line and was third in the NFL with 15 of his 78 punts (19 percent of the time) landed inside the opponent's 10-yard-line. He averaged 43.9 yards and he famously ran 68 yards for a first down against the Saints on Oct. 30. That run is currently the longest run by a punter in NFL history, and it was the longest run by a member of the Cleveland Browns during the 2010 season.

Hodges' performance the last season-and-a-half earned him a two-year contract extension last November.

So, the Browns have the highest drafted long snapper in NFL history, the punter with the longest run in NFL history, and the ninth most accurate place kicker in NFL history.

That's a trio that is hard to beat. Unfortunately, opponents still find beating the Browns quite easy.

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