For the last two seasons, the sole play-maker on the Cleveland Browns offense has been a special teams player. Is that a testament to his abilities or simply an idea of just how bad Cleveland's offense has been?
In this case, the finger-pointing has to be towards an anemic offensive attack put on the field by head coaches Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini. In these two years, due to various injuries and inconsistent play, four non-established quarterbacks have taken the field with mixed results all ending in failure.
Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, and Bruce Gradkowski round out the list of passers that tried and failed in Cleveland Browns Stadium. With these four under center in 2008 and 2009, Cleveland's offense ranked in the bottom three in the league both seasons.
While it's no secret with numbers like that, the offense has led the team overall to an astounding lack of success with just nine wins in two seasons. Is this offense's lack of play-makers also inadvertently doing career-threatening damage to Cleveland's best player?
It can't be argued that the man who stepped up to shoulder the workload the most is coincidentally of the only position on the field with a shorter shelf-life than that of the running back, the kick returner Joshua Cribbs.
Reviewing the top 23 kick returners in NFL history, 17 out of those 23 have played eight or less seasons. Essentially returning kicks is like playing chicken on the highway, 250 pound men each running full speed at each other with 25 yards of momentum looking for contact is a quick way to find a broken bone.
The six returners on the list currently still playing are Devin Hester who had a series of ankle, calf, rib, and shoulder injuries in his fourth season, Leon Washington who has knee surgery in his fourth season, Justin Miller who had knee surgery in his third season, Terrence McGee who had shoulder surgery in his seventh season, Allen Rossum who recently suffered a hamstring injury, and of course Josh Cribbs, who was carted off the field last season in a hook and ladder desperation play.
That being said, Cribbs' current contract runs him until the 2012 season, which just so happens to be his eighth season in the NFL. At a time when the numbers are pointing towards impending injuries, Cleveland is adding more packages and positions for him to play on the field.
It is hard not to admire his willingness to literally do it all, but it should be on management not to let him. They need to ask themselves if they'd rather extend his career another 10 seasons by limiting his play to the things he does best, or overuse him to the point of allowing him to get in on every play possible and increase the risk of injuries?
As a fan favorite in Cleveland, and being arguably the best kick returner in the NFL, should he really be playing wide receiver, running back, gunning on special teams, quarterback in the wildcat formation, punt returner, and kick returner? Last year alone saw Cribbs catching the ball 18 more times than 2008 while running it an additional 26 times more than the previous season.
General manager Tom Heckert needs to be surrounding him with the offensive talent that will take the pressure off his star player. With such a dynamic player on your team that will do anything to help the team win, it's owed to him by the coaching staff to protect him as much as possible while still allowing him to contribute to the best of his abilities. Less duties would also keep him more fresh and explosive when he does get the ball into his hands.
It should be noted that with the additions of Jake Delhomme, Benjamin Watson, and Montario Hardesty, that the new front office has done more than the previous ones to attempt to build a real offense. But for the sake of one of the most outstanding football players to grace the Cleveland locker room since Jim Brown, I sure hope the offense gets it together sooner rather than later.
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