Gary Barnidge remains a constant on offense


Cleveland Browns tight end Gary Barnidge will be relied upon to give the offense some stability at the outset of the season.

Much of the focus surrounding the Cleveland Browns‘ offense leading up to the season is on the young, inexperienced wide receiving corps.

Out of the six who made the final roster, Andrew Hawkins is the only one with significant NFL experience. Behind him there is Terrelle Pryor, who has one career reception during his time as a wide receiver, and then four rookies.

The front office made it clear the group was in for a makeover when taking the four rookies in the draft, but the reality of the situation is becoming more clear as the season approaches. With the mistakes bound to be made by the young group, there needs to be someone reliable on offense for Robert Griffin III to rely on in tough situations.

That player will be Gary Barnidge.

Barnidge’s name has been left out of the conversation surrounding all the questions on offense, as he is silently being expected to return to his Pro Bowl form of a year ago, or at least get close to that mark.

He finished 2015 with a career high 1,043 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. One may say a drop-off is possible and claim 2015 was a fluke, but his 125 targets show he has become a focal point of the offense. His lack of playing time and targets in the past led to his low production, as he was never a weapon in the passing game until last season.

Given he can stay healthy, Barnidge should expect at least eight to ten targets a game all season long, or at least until the young receivers can get comfortable with the offense. The focus on the tight end by opposing defenses should help open up the field for the others.

Barnidge does not even need to be a 1,000-yard receiver in 2016. He just needs to be a reliable target for Griffin to go to on third down and in games when the secondary is making it difficult for the young receivers to get anything going. And if they can get something going, Barnidge’s big-play ability is always there.

Something that may prove beneficial to his quest to return to the Pro Bowl is the lack of experience behind him on the depth chart. Randall Telfer and Seth DeValve are the two tight ends behind Barnidge, and neither have played in a single NFL regular season game. Telfer missed the entire 2015 due to injury after being drafted by the Browns last year, while DeValve was drafted this year.

2016 will be about developing young players, but the young tight ends will not see as much time as the young receivers. Taking time from Barnidge will take time for both Telfer and DeValve, especially when Barnidge will be expected to be a top pass-catcher for the Browns.

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With all the uncertainty surrounding the entire team, it is nice to have a reliable player like Barnidge who can be counted on every week to be a key part of the offense. He will play great football, but it is up to Griffin, perhaps the biggest question mark on the entire team, to get him the ball. That could be a problem.