Becoming No. 2 Now Job 1 for Cribbs

With uncertainty swirling around the wide receiver position, the special teams ace is doing his damndest to nail down the spot opposite Braylon on the starting unit.

When Josh Cribbs came into the NFL in 2005, the question was obvious.

How in the name of Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich, Ben Roethlisberger and even Charlie Frye was a quarterback from a mid-major such as the Mid-American Conference going to make a team, and make it in the league?

Especially when he wasn't drafted but was a rookie free agent, which is the bottom of the food chain in the NFL?

Especially when he wasn't a typical quarterback, per se, but a dual threat thrower/runner in college?

Especially when he was going to be asked to play positions other than quarterback?

And especially when some of those positions were on special teams, including coverage units?

Now, come on, when's the last time you saw one of the big boys from the big conferences, such as Peyton or Eli Manning, Donovan McNabb or Carson Palmer, running down the field on kickoffs and punts?

But, as we now know, Cribbs did all that and then some over the last four seasons, becoming one of the best special teamers in the game and arguably the best, particularly as a returner, the Browns have ever had.

With that under his belt, Cribbs now faces a new challenge – proving he's more than just a special teamer, that he can also be the No. 2 wide receiver behind Braylon Edwards.

"This is definitely a bigger thing for me than it was when I first got here and was just trying to make the team," the former Kent State star said following Monday's training camp practice as the Browns tried to put last Saturday night's 17-0 loss to the Green Bay Packers behind them and get ready for Saturday night's home opener against the Detroit Lions.

"When all this started, guys were saying, ‘He can't do this,' and ‘He can't do that.' But everyone is seeing a different picture now. I'm catching the ball across the middle, and doing all the things a receiver needs to do."

All the things. That includes blocking, something that a lot of receivers don't like to do.

"The coaches looked at last year's film and saw what I did as a blocker," Cribbs said.

Even with his drop of a touchdown pass against the Packers, plus an estimated 17 drops last season, Edwards is still entrenched as the No. 1 receiver. That's not going to change. But what may change – at least for the time being -- are the plans the Browns have for that No. 2 spot. They drafted Brian Robiskie and Mohammed Massaquoi in the second round this year to battle for that job, and while they have been making progress, it's not as much, or as quickly, as the Browns would like.

Cribbs, on the other hand, has played the position since 2005. It hasn't been much – he has just 16 career catches, including only two last year – but at least it's something.

The Browns would like to use smallish Mike Furrey, a Brian Brennan type, in the slot to find the hole in the coverage, sit down in it and catch the ball.

Lance Leggett has the size at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, but he's never played a down in a regular-season NFL game, having spent all of last year on the practice squad.

So Cribbs, who has good size, too, at 6-1 and 205 pounds and also the kind of strength that belies the fact he used to be a quarterback, is getting the first shot at No. 2. And he's determined to make the most of it by turning heads.

"I'm working hard to show them that I'm the guy," he said. "I love the reps I'm getting. As much as they'll get me the ball, I'll take it. I appreciate the coaching staff for giving the reps to me."

Whereas in earlier years the Browns used Cribbs only on select plays as kind of a specialty guy, he is now being utilized a lot more.

"Instead of being in there a little bit, now they're putting me out there all the time to give defensive coordinators something to worry about on every play," he said. "They're telling me, ‘You can be the guy. You can be the guy.' "

If he's the starting receiver, Cribbs said he would probably give up his coverage duties.

"We've got a lot of young, talented guys who can do that," he said.

But Cribbs said he will keep his job as a returner.

"Definitely, I can be the returner and the No. 2 receiver," he made it clear.

He averaged 21.5 yards on two kickoff returns against the Packers, caught two passes for 30 yards, including a 22-yarder, and was the team's leading rusher with 29 yards –  in just tone attempt.

That's versatility. It's something Joshua Cribbs has built his reputation on to this point of his career. But he wants more.

Whether he can get it or not is the next big question he must answer.


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