Will Gary Barnidge repeat the success he had in 2015?


Cleveland Browns tight end Gary Barnidge needs to be great once again for the team to have offensive success in 2016.

The Cleveland Browns found a gem in tight end Gary Barnidge. He joined the Browns in 2013 and entered 2015 with three touchdown catches in his entire career. Few may have expected what came next.

Barnidge finished the 2015 season with 79 receptions for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns. His previous high in receptions was 13, which he had in both 2013 and 2014.

He emerged as the top receiving option in Cleveland, and is expected to be the top target again this season. The departure of Travis Benjamin and the release of Brian Hartline adds some added pressure to what Barnidge must do in 2016.

There is also the fact the Browns selected four rookie wide receivers in this year’s draft. First-round pick Corey Coleman should be the number one wide receiver on the depth chart, but that does not mean he will be dominating opposing cornerbacks from the start. It will be up to Barnidge, along with Andrew Hawkins and Duke Johnson Jr., to help new quarterback Robert Griffin III early on in the season while the rookies adjust to the NFL.

There is no reason to believe Barnidge cannot put up similar numbers in 2016. Opposing defenses did not have to worry about any other major threats on the Browns last season, so Barnidge put up those impressive numbers as the top option on offense. With Coleman on the roster, along with the three other rookies, there may actually be some legitimate threats in the receiving corps, thus opening up the field for Barnidge.

The only thing that could come between Barnidge and another Pro Bowl appearance is the play of Griffin. He is still a question mark at the quarterback position, as he did not play a single game in 2015 and has not been a great player since his rookie season in 2012.

It is a small sample to judge upon, so it will take some time for any judgments to be passed on the success of Griffin in Cleveland. Having Barnidge on the field should help Griffin in his return to being a starting quarterback, so it seems unlikely right now that Barnidge’s production will be diminished with Griffin under center.

The key for Barnidge is to remain healthy, which is true for any professional athlete. He underwent  sports hernia surgery last month, but made it clear he plans to be present for training camp. It was a routine surgery, so there should be nothing to worry about there.

The preseason will be a great sign of how Griffin and Barnidge can work together, but the first few games of the season will be the ultimate test.

Week 4 may provide the most evidence of what Barnidge and Griffin can do together, as Griffin will want to make a statement in his return to take on the Washington Redskins. Having one of the best tight ends in football should help him to achieve his goal.