EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally intended for the post-draft issue of the OBR Magazine, but had to be cut at the last minute due to space constraints.
Joshua Cribbs was one of the veteran Browns to speak to the newcomers at the team's rookie minicamp following the draft. Cribbs and outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley addressed the 47 rookies.
Barring a long contract impasse, what will be even more important will be what Cribbs says -- verbally and with his play -- to Browns head coach Eric Mangini sometime soon.
Even since the former star Kent State quarterback beat long, long odds to make the team as a rookie free agent in 2005 and then began impressing everyone each time he touched the ball, usually as a returner, Browns fans have been clamoring for him to be given an expanded role. For whatever reason, former head coach Romeo Crennel seemed reluctant to do that, but fans may finally get their wish with Mangini at the helm.
Asked at the very end of a press conference last month about how Cribbs will be used this season, Mangini said, "That's not definite. It's up to him to see what role he can excel at, whether it all offense, all defense or a combination of offense and defense.
"But what's really important to me is not necessarily the role, but that he carves out a role."
One of the best -- and most versatile -- all-around athletes in team history, Cribbs is on track to break just about every Browns kickoff return record, and is also quickly climbing the charts in a new endeavor, punt returning. He will obviously continue in those two jobs. The Browns can't afford to move him out of those roles. After all, late last season, when injuries slowed the offense to a crawl, Cribbs' returning was the Browns' best way to move the ball.
He also has played wide receiver, but he's never really been part of the offense. He caught just two passes for 18 yards and his first touchdown reception last year, and in four seasons has but 16 grabs for 153 yards.
Working at quarterback late last year when injuries depleted that position, he stepped into his old slot from his Golden Flashes says and rushed 29 times for 167 yards, the third-highest total on the team, and averaged a healthy 5.8 yards per carry. In his career, he has 40 rushes for 239 yards (6.0).
Cribbs has lobbied -- begged, even -- to do more.
I'll do anything," he has said on any number of occasions. "I'll do anything they ask. The more you can do, the more valuable you are to the team. I'll even drive the team bus, or play nose tackle."
Nose tackle? Uh, maybe not. Even though Cribbs has gotten bigger and stronger since he came to the Browns, he's still only 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds. He would need about 135 pounds -- at least -- to get into Shaun Rogers' range.
But don't rule out defense entirely.
Since Mangini arrived, there has been talk of him getting some time at either cornerback or safety. The coach has done not nothing to quell that speculation and, in fact, put the onus on Cribbs with what he said Saturday. That's something Cribbs will embrace -- and already has.
"I owe him a quiz," Mangini said. "He's said he's got two of the defensive coverages down cold. We'll see. We'll see."
Don't bet against him, Coach. He's proven every doubter wrong to this point.
"When people have told me I couldn't do something, it has always inspired me," Cribbs has said whenever he's been asked about it.
Cribbs has long been inspired, and hungry. And now he may have a head coach who is willing to keep feeding him until he proves he's bitten off more than he can chew.