BEREA— Heading into this season, it appeared as though the Browns offense would have a slight void in the “playmakers” department.
Built on a solid offensive line and a downhill rushing attack, the Browns wanted to win games with long, run-laiden drives and their stalwarts on defense.
Just two games into the season, however, a bit of a surprise has emerged in Berea and has come in the form of wide receiver Travis Benjamin.
Though Benjamin was mentioned throughout Training Camp as being a standout player with stellar speed, he hadn’t proven much on the offensive side of the ball in real-game action.
Just two games and four touchdowns later, he might just be the offensive spark the team needs.
“What we found was that this is a guy who is smart, knows multiple positions, runs good routes, catches the football and has blazing speed,” Browns head coach Mike Pettine said. “It was something we kind of stumbled onto last year and even this year.
Though he’d been around Cleveland for a couple of years, Benjamin was an unknown commodity to offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who joined the team this summer.
When he first caught a glimpse of No. 11 in action, he wondered why Benjamin hadn’t been utilized.
“When we got here in the spring, I just noticed this guy that had really good hands and could run fast. I was like ‘There is a place on the field for this guy somewhere,’” DeFilippo said. “We sped him along…It is a credit to him how far he has come as a receiver. He has worked his butt off.”
Though he’s a special player in his own right, Benjamin presents an additional opportunity for DeFilippo— one in which Benjamin stretches the field to open up other facets of the Browns’ passing attack.
“When you are a threat to go deep, you get a lot of soft coverage so it opens up the routes underneath also, which gives you opportunities to catch and run with space,” DeFilippo said. “That is a huge part of having a guy with that type of speed on your offensive side.”
Pettine added that Benjamin’s speed can only increase the amount of time opposing defenses have to spend preparing for him.
“If you feel you don’t have somebody that can press him at the line and be able to maintain leverage with him down the field, than you are going to have to do some different things whether it is playing off-coverage or rolling a safety over the top,” Pettine said. “That type of speed definitely has an effect on someone who is game planning a defense.”
Benjamin’s speed brings a lot to the offense, but may bring even more to the Browns special teams unit.
Browns special teams coordinator Chris Tabor has worked with one of the greatest returners in the history of the NFL— Devin Hester — and said that Benjamin belongs in his elite category.
“There are some similarities. They’re both fast. Both of them catch the ball well. They’re both elusive,” Tabor said. “They’re built differently— Devin is a little thicker than what Travis is— but with regards to big play-making ability, they both have that.”
Tabor, who’s worked with Benjamin for over a year now as a punt returner, is proud of how far he’s come and, unlike the aforementioned coaches, isn’t surprised at what Benjamin has been able to do.
“I just believed in the player. I’ve always stated he’s a good football player. I see him every day and I see him work at his craft and I see a young man do that. I have confidence in him,” Tabor said. “I’m not surprised by it”
He may be proud of Benjamin, but Tabor knows all too well that the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately?” league and wants to see Benjamin continue to make the plays he has over the first two weeks.
“He’s right on right now,” Tabor said. “At the same time, you’re only as good as your next game, so here comes the next one, so we’ll see what takes place.”
For all of your Browns news, notes and analysis from Berea, follow Hayden Grove on Twitter: @H_Grove.