Cleveland Browns 2015 Positional Preview – Special Teams


So, we’ve come this far in our pre-season positional preview and it’s just about that time to look over the special teams unit. Yay? I know it’s not the most interesting topic, but my job is to entertain you. I wouldn’t let you read something that didn’t make you think a little bit, whether you agree on what I have to say or not.

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It’s funny how football people make a big deal about the importance of special teams. Don’t get me wrong, having a kicker hit a clutch field goal as time expires is important and so is field position, but to say it’s really 1/3 of the game is a bit of an overstatement.

People keep telling me football is a team game and how every player on the roster is important, and the more they say it, the more I shake my head. Do you realize who were the top four seeds in each conference last season? New England, Denver, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Seattle, Green Bay, Dallas, and Carolina. What do almost all of them have in common? An elite quarterback.

Can you name me New England or Green Bay’s kick returner? No, who cares? I’m really not trying to kill special teams, but can we not call it 1/3 of the game? Can we make it like 1/6 of the game? You could have either an elite defense or an elite offense and be a playoff team. What if I told you “yeah they have no quarterback and a pitiful defense, but hey they have a mean special teams!” Would you think that’s anywhere close to a playoff team?

Anyway, I’m getting carried away, let’s breakdown what the Cleveland Browns have for us entering camp from their special teams unit.

Kicker: I have no idea what they’re thinking with having two inexperienced placekickers on their roster come the start of camp. Neither Carey Spear or Travis Coons have kicked a football in a regular season game, which makes things interesting. Usually, a team will have a veteran kicker in camp and test him with a younger guy for competition. Most of the time, the older guy wins the battle, but it at least keeps him on his toes and gives the team another option incase of injury. Other times, the younger kicker might be kept on the roster because of better distance on kickoffs, and be primarily a kickoff specialist. The Cowboys did this a few years ago with David Buehler. Kicking is a very physiological positional, and to have two guys who have never kicked a ball at Heinz Field in December or M&T Bank Stadium on a cold sunday night, has to worry some around the organization.

Punter: I love the trade for Andy Lee. Last season, the Browns ranked 21st in the league in average yards per punt. The Browns now acquire Lee, who has finished in the top ten in that category every year in the last five years with the San Francisco 49ers and for what price? The Browns dealt a seventh-round pick to San Francisco in exchange for the three-time Pro Bowler, which is virtually nothing. This should be a big help on special teams for a team that is going to need to value the little things a bit more than other teams because of their quarterback situation. Field position is one of those little things.

Return Game: Last season, Cleveland ranked 28th in the league in both kick return and punt return average with Travis Benjamin, Marlon Moore, and Taylor Gabriel returning. This season, expect to see Justin Gilbert get a chance at returning some punts and kickoffs because of his success doing that in college. This group should stay relatively the same personnel wise, with Jordan Poyer in the mix as well. There is clear potential in this group, but there needs to be big-time improvement from last season. Like I said before, this team needs to do the little things well because of their quarterback situation. That starts with field position, once again.

I won’t be breaking down gunners on punts, or who will lead the team in tackles on kickoffs because I don’t want to bore you to do death. This group certainly has strides to make this season, but my biggest concern is the kicker situation and their inexperience. It will certainly be interesting to see how that, and other situations unfold come the start of camp.

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