Dwayne Bowe was brought in on a two-year $12.5 million dollar deal. Brian Hartline signed a two-year $6 million dollar contract. Andrew Hawkins led the team in both receptions and receiving yards in 2014. Taylor Gabriel went from undrafted rookie free agent to 36 catches and second on the team in receiving yards with 621. The Browns spent a fourth round draft pick on rookie Vince Mayle, and of course signed everyone’s favorite quarterback turned training camp Adonis Terrelle Pryor.
Travis Benjamin did not have a spectacular 2014 season. He was targeted 46 times and caught 18 passes for 314 yards with three scores. His kick returning was an adventure, with several muffs and plummeting yards per return averages.
The picture unfolding as camp opened was that Benjamin could be fighting for a roster spot.
That may still be the case, but Travis Benjamin has risen to the challenge. On Sunday he was the most productive receiver in the group, catching several passes during the 11-on-11 scrimmage sessions, including a pair of first down grabs during the jersey competition.
Following Sunday’s practice coach Mike Pettine said that Benjamin was on the bubble last season, but showed them enough to surprise from the wide receiver spot.
“I think he was looked at as ‘Hey, he’s a returner, he’s on the bubble because he’s coming off a knee," said Mike Pettine. "How effective is he going to be?’ He never got going as a returner, but he certainly showed his capability as a wide out. It was a surprise. It was a very pleasant one.”
The injury that coach Pettine referred to was a torn ACL suffered in week eight of the 2013 season. That injury is behind Benjamin now, and he seems to be back to full strength, something that couldn’t be said last season. “What’s encouraging this year is if you talk to him and ask him, ‘Hey, how do you feel compared to a year ago?’ it’s night and day,” said Pettine on Sunday. “That’s usually true with that type of injury that it takes to that next year to really feel back to being your old self.”
The Browns could use Benjamin’s “old self” again.
The special teams were a much more dynamic unit when Benjamin was able to be effective. Before his injury in 2013 Benjamin was a threat to score every time he touched the ball with his speed. Even in his less productive 2014 season, Benjamin still led the team in touchdown receptions with three. He is one of the most explosive players on the Browns roster.
The question may come down to how many smaller receivers the Browns want to keep on the roster. At 5’10” Benjamin is taller than both Gabriel (5’8”) and Hawkins (5’7”) but still isn’t a substantial target. Is there room for all three?
Last year the Browns broke camp with five wide receivers on the active roster. Bowe, Hartline and Hawkins are locks. The Browns found a diamond in the rough in Gabriel last season. Mayle was a fourth round draft pick this season. Rodney Smith at 6’5” has a shot to make the club. Then there’s that Pryor guy. Even if the Browns keep six or seven, one of these guys won’t be on the 53-man roster.
So far Benjamin has put himself in position not just to make the team, but to make a real contribution.