Cleveland Browns: Josh Cribbs Must Improve for Browns to Be Successful

Brian MurtaughAnalyst IMarch 24, 2011

CLEVELAND - OCTOBER 04:  Joshua Cribbs #16 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs the ball against the Cleveland Browns during their game at Cleveland Browns Stadium on October 4, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Bengals defeated the Browns 23-20 in overtime.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Josh Cribbs was once one of the best return specialists in the entire NFL, and his eight career returns for scores is among the best that professional football has ever seen.

However, for Cribbs, times may be changing, as the former Kent State standout is one of the hardest hit by the recent rule changes that will send kickoffs to the 35-yard line next season.

Cribbs became a hero in Cleveland's organization as his dazzling returns not only made Browns football exciting to watch, but gave the team an advantage that few could match.

Cribbs even gained more yards than the Browns' quarterbacks (Derek Anderson's 888 yards passing and Brady Quinn's 1,139) in 2009, as he ran back kicks for over 1,500 yards and three touchdowns.

But 2010 came as a bit of a disappointment for both the Browns and Cribbs, as his numbers took a significant decline and the team struggled with their special teams production. Cribbs failed to return a kick for a score for the first time in his career.

Even though Cribbs struggled, the feeling was still there every time an opposing team would kick—the Browns could take it all the way for a touchdown. However, next season may be a career-changing year for Cribbs and the way Cleveland approaches their game plan.

The new rule change will make it tougher for teams to get quality returns on kicks, as the defense will be five yards closer than they were in previous years.

Kickers will also have a significant advantage as many professionals have the leg strength to kick a ball out of the back of the end zone from that position on the field.

In order for Cribbs to remain a significant part of Cleveland's plans, he will have to improve on his ability to become a reliable and consistent receiving threat down the field.

Cribbs only has 59 receptions in six seasons, but did have a career-high 23 catches for 292 yards in 2010.

Cleveland will need more production out of the wide receiver spot next season, as Pat Shurmur's West Coast offense will rely heavily on the receiver's ability to get open and gain yards after the catch.

Cribbs has proven that he has the ability to make defenders miss in open space. The only problem is that he has continued to struggle against some of the NFL's elite corners and never caught a pass longer than 35 yards before last season.

If Cribbs is going to be successful with the Browns for the rest of his career, he will have to improve in all areas of his game and beat out some talented players for time on the field.

Cleveland will more than likely be looking to add some sort of offensive weapon during the NFL draft, and only time will tell how Cribbs will fit into Pat Shurmur's plans next season.