Things never get stale for Joshua Cribbs.
The Cleveland Browns current kick returner/punt returner/special teams gunner/wide receiver/wildcat quarterback/wildcat running back obviously has plenty of job titles in the NFL.
There’s so many slashes in there, you might as well just call him slash.
Wait a second…I’m not even going there. My apologies Mr. Cribbs and fellow Browns' fans. It won’t happen again.
Fancy schmancy nickname or not, Josh Cribbs might add yet another position to his already full arsenal—this time on defense.
Defense you ask? Who does he think he is, Troy Brown? That’s preposterous. Actually, don’t be so sure about that.
Word has it from Daniel Wolf that he was utilized as a safety during Cleveland’s Brown and White Scrimmage on August 7.
It’s difficult to tell if this is good or bad news since it all depends on how you look at it. Is Cleveland’s safety situation still that bad, or has Cribbs simply been studying in the off-season for yet another opportunity at a new position? Time will tell.
At 6’1” 215 lbs, Cribbs has perfect strong safety size and would be a headache for opposing receivers looking to get a clean break off the line. He also does a good job of weaving through traffic when the ball is actually in his hands, so it’s safe to assume that he can do the exact same thing on the other side of the ball while blitzing.
He also plays on special teams defensively and is widely regarded as one of the best special teams gunners in the league. Tackling is not unorthodox for him—he’s actually quite good at it.
A couple of seasons ago, there was a small contingent of Browns' fans who thought Cribbs should be given a chance at safety, myself included. With his size, speed, and physical style of play, it seemed to be a sure thing in the eyes of some folks, especially when he was being used scarcely on offense by Romeo Crennel.
It was exciting when Eric Mangini tried him out as a safety last year, but when it didn't pan out, the situation was understandable because it was going to be a lot on Cribbs' plate.
He would have had to learn a new offense under a new coaching staff as a WR, soak up and master plays out of the Flash package, and comprehend defensive schemes on top of that. It was just too much all at once. Something had to be cut out.
Embracing The Possibilities
After a year of absorbing all of the offensive information, Josh Cribbs looks poised to welcome his possible new role on the other side of the ball.
When asked about his time on defense during the scrimmage, Cribbs replied,
"I don't want to put my foot in my mouth, but coach really likes me back there and wants to give me a shot. I want to take advantage of the opportunity every chance I get."
At least he’s willing, but that is, never has been, and probably never will be the question. The issue at hand here is whether or not this is going to be overkill.
With his continued progress at WR and seeing how successful he was in the option game, it’s easy for anyone to realize that he's the kind of guy that quite simply needs the ball in his hands. This is when he’s at his absolute best and his record-breaking ability as a kick returner is complete proof of this notion.
Simply put, the man is electric. Boogie woogie woogie.
Not So Fast My Friend
When the thought of him playing at safety full-time crosses your mind, go right ahead and cross it out.
Putting him primarily on defense will take him too far out of his current comfort zone. Even playing there part-time would only hinder his productivity on offense. He’s just become too good of a versatile weapon toting the rock.
But…and this is a big but, playing as a safety on a purely situational basis sounds like a much more intelligent and resourceful move. Think along the lines of a few plays a game.
Circle that statement, because this is what Browns fans should expect to see.
Even at the age of 27, Josh Cribbs is still learning as a wide receiver. When you take into account the fact that he was a running back growing up, a quarterback throughout high school, and a QB for four years in college, it's easy to see why it's taken him awhile.
A large portion of the receivers in the NFL have played the position for three to four years collegiately, then it usually takes two to three years until they put up breakout-type numbers in the NFL.
If those same players were also receivers in high school, then they have even more overall experience. In other words, they had plenty of time to learn all the nuances and memorize certain tricks of the trade—something Cribbs never got a chance to do.
These types of guys have had probably six to seven years of receiving experience before they even enter the NFL…maybe more.
Cribbs had zero, zilch, nada.
Don't Pick The Fruit Before it's Ripe
As a rookie wide receiver back in 2005, Cribbs was...well...basically fresh out of the crib. He was a baby learning to crawl.
During his tenure in Cleveland, Romeo Crennel used Cribbs very sparingly at WR, so he didn't get much experience early on in his career. This is the most critical stage of a baby's development! How could Crennel neglect an infant like that? He's pure evil!
All joking aside—that’s meant to be a semi-serious statement.
So, when overall receiving experience is factored into the equation, 2010 is going to be Cribbs' sixth total season as a WR, which should be the year that he gets this receiver thing down. This of course is said with absolute optimism, but the statistics regarding receiving production are fairly distinct.
It sounds strange, but when it comes down to the potential of being a legitimate NFL receiver, it’s still too soon to write him off.
Prosperity Still on The Horizon
Speaking of which, in terms of being an all-around productive WR, Cribbs is getting noticeably closer to perfecting his craft. The word from various sources is that Cribbs’ route-running and overall ability at the position has looked much better and smoother than in years past.
He’s always been a very willing blocker and was a reason why the Browns had so many running plays go for huge chunks of yardage during their four-game winning streak last year.
Why blow up his progression now when he's so close, and basically start all over with something completely new and totally foreign to him like playing on defense full-time?
Not to say he can't play safety exclusively, it’s just the thought of Cribbs being sort of a defensive specialist from time to time is a much more tempting proposition. There are pass-rushing specialists along defensive lines and throughout linebacking crews across the league. Why not occasionally have a pass-rushing specialist on third down from the secondary?
It makes perfect sense, especially when that player is Josh Cribbs. He’s taken on every single role bestowed upon him and has run away with all of them…literally. How is this any different?
He can still do everything he’s doing now offensively, in addition to having a potential impact on defense. There’s nothing wrong with having your cake and eating it too, especially when that cake is the result of being the starting kick returner on the NFL’s most recent all-decade team.
Or would this be the icing on the cake? Nah…that would be his success as an option quarterback. Could it possibly be the side of ice cream? Let’s just call Cribbs “á la mode” from now on.
Why am I suddenly getting hungry?
There are still a few doubts and concerns, but something in the air indicates he’ll ultimately succeed at this career venture as well. It’s definitely exciting, but overall expectations need to be tempered just a bit, because defense is a completely different ballgame. Don’t anticipate him becoming the next Eric Turner overnight, because it‘s not happening.
If there’s a future for him in the secondary, it’s most likely going to take some time and patience from both the coaches and the fan base.
Although, if he comes right in and shows great instincts in the defensive backfield, it wouldn’t be a surprise either. Nothing he does is surprising anymore.
The "What if?" Game
It’s also interesting to wonder how exactly this came to fruition.
Maybe Cribbs studied up in the off-season on defensive assignments which surprised both Eric Mangini and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Maybe this was the coaching staff's plan all along and are hoping it stays under the radar for the season.
Or, perhaps this was a one-time thing solely being used just to perplex the Cleveland media. Wouldn’t that be ironically humorous in a “thanks for the warm welcome last year” sort of way?
Earlier I mentioned 'icing on the cake'. Well, this scenario would take the cake.
Hearsay, conjecture, and cake talk aside, it's something new and exciting for Cleveland fans and can further entrench Josh Cribbs as one of the best all-around football players in the league—even though he‘s pretty much earned that reputation already.
There really might not be anything Josh Cribbs can't do.