Derry: Still Paying the Price

Today's 19-16 loss to the Houston Texans can be partially attributed to Butch Davis' decision to part with Chris Gardocki, writes Bernie's Insiders' Frank Derry. With Gardocki still in Pittsburgh, the Browns have been forced to try to replace him and, as today's game shows, are getting themselves into worse trouble each time they try...

Throughout the years, the Cleveland Browns have had some of the best punters in the NFL.

As a youngster, I used to marvel at the ability of Gary Collins to not only be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, but also use his foot as well as his hands in making a difference in the game as a punter.

Understandably, Collins was very upset about the fact the Browns would not compensate him for being a multi-dimensional player. In fact, it was a grudge he held throughout his career in Cleveland and seemed to leave a bitter taste in his mouth in regards to the team he helped win the World Championship in 1964.

Even before Collins, the Browns boasted one of the best of his time in Horace Gillom, who still holds the team record for longest punt, having kicked an 80-yarder against the New York Giants on Nov. 28, 1954. He also is No. 2 on the team with a 75-yarder on Oct. 29, 1950 against the Pittsburgh Steelers and is tied for No. 3 with a 73-yarder against the Washington Redskins on Oct. 26, 1952.

Gillom also played some wide receiver, but never was close to the level of Hall of Famer Dante Lavelli or Max Speedie, the two guys who caught the majority of Otto Graham's passes during the team's glory days throughout the 1950s, so his main claim to fame was his foot.

In more recent times, another two-way performer who was an excellent punter for the Browns was Don Cockroft, who doubled as the field goal kicker, another rarity in today's game. Cockroft has his name on the team' top 10 punting list three times, having booted the ball 73 yards once and 71 twice during his career.

Unfortunately, Cockroft's reputation was forever stained by his performance in his final game, that being the Red Right 88 debacle on Jan. 4, 1981 in which he missed a pair of field goals in the 14-12 loss to the Raiders. Then-head coach Sam Rutigliano's lack of confidence in Cockroft on that brutally cold day on the lakefront was a big reason why the team attempted to score a touchdown in he final minute rather than rely on Cockroft's toe to win the game.

Still, there can be no disputing the fact Cockroft was one of the best kickers/punters of his time.

Even the "new" Browns were able to land an outstanding punter in Chris Gardocki, who probably was the team's Most Valuable Player for the first five years to their return. Game in and game out, Gardocki would bail the team out of tough field position with his excellent punts, which normally had a lot of hang time.

But incredibly following the 2003 season, then-head coach Butch Davis deemed Gardocki's talents to be eroding and he was allowed to leave via free agency. It didn't take the Pittsburgh Steelers long to sign Gardocki, who remains a very important component in the Steelers' machine.

In an era dominated by horrendous personnel moves, Davis's decision to part ways with Gardocki was one of his very worst.

It's a decision that is still haunting the Cleveland Browns today.

Instead of having the steady, reliable Gardocki doing the punting, the Browns have had to turn to Kyle Richardson to try and fill Gardocki's big shoes.

The eight-year NFL veteran hasn't succeeded.

Kyle Richardson is no Chris Gardocki. He's no Don Cockroft. He's no Horace Gillom or Gary Collins.

In fact, he's not even as good as Derrick Frost, the guy who he replaced this year.

Sunday afternoon in the Browns' dismal 19-16 loss to the previously-winless Houston Texans, Richardson was at his all-time worst. He got off an 18-yarder in the first half that set up Houston's only touchdown of the game. He then outdid himself by slicing a nine-yarder in the fourth quarter, a punt that allowed the Texans to get into field goal range. Fortunately, Kris Brown missed the 38-yarder, but not through fault of Richardson.

If the Browns were a good team, they might be able to overcome an occasional bad punt. Then again, if the Browns were a good team, they wouldn't be having Richardson do their punting.

If this was an isolated incident for Richardson, it would be one thing. But dating back as far as the preseason, Richardson has pretty much been good or at least one bad punt every game.

What's going to happen if the Browns ever find themselves in a critical game? I mean Richardson is has been awful in low-pressure situations in games that are being played in ideal conditions.

Wait a couple of weeks. I can just imagine how Richardson will perform against the Dolphins, Jaguars, Steelers and Ravens, all games that have the potential to be played in frigid, blustery conditions at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

His incredibly inconsistent performance has been overshadowed by the offensive woes being experienced by quarterback Trent Dilfer and company. But unlike a good or bad offensive performance, which is the product of 11 guys working as one, the punts off the side of the foot can be blamed on only one person … the punter.

I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Browns post a HELP WANTED sign in the very near future.

The Browns need to find someone who can boot the ball 40 yards every time the punter takes the field. We're not talking about a Ray Guy or even a Chris Gardocki. But somewhere out there, there has to be someone one there who can kick the ball more than 20 yards.

I didn't think I'd ever be saying this, but where is Derrick Frost when you need him?


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