BEREA: Browns rookie wide receiver Travis Benjamin sprinted toward the front corner of the end zone, reached in front of defensive back Emanuel Davis and hauled in a touchdown pass from quarterback Colt McCoy during a red-zone drill.
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Benjamin is known for his blazing speed. But during the past few practices of training camp, he has shown his other abilities, too.
“Even though I might be small in size, I’ve been playing football ever since I was young,” Benjamin said Wednesday. “Mostly all the guys have been bigger than me, so I’ve just gotta keep that mindset that I’ve gotta play big.
“That’s all a part of football — being physical. There’s not one player on the field that’s not physical. Every play is contact, so I’m used to it. I’m more than just a fast guy.”
Coach Pat Shurmur has been pleasantly surprised.
“I anticipated with his natural size that he might get banged around and be less efficient, but he’s done a great job,” Shurmur said. “I think he handles the traffic pretty well, and you could see today he caught the ball in contested situations extremely well. We knew he had the skill and ability to play in this league, and at least to this point, he’s doing a good job of improving his game.”
In February, Benjamin posted a time of 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. He finished in a three-way tie for second place, and the Browns drafted him in the fourth round (100th overall) out of the University of Miami because they became convinced he could help satisfy their need for speed.
Benjamin, though, appeared to be raw when he joined the Browns in spring practices. He often dropped passes from rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and said he needed to grow accustomed to the zip on the ball.
However, he has since made strides and become more consistent.
“It’s all about timing,” Benjamin said. “First, me knowing him, knowing the touch on his ball, what kind of heat he’s gonna bring and after practice being on the JUGS machine, making sure they put up a little speed, so that I’m used to catching if I can get my hands braced.”
Benjamin also has focused on running crisper routes. When he wasn’t at the Browns’ training facility during the offseason, he worked out at Miami with other former Hurricanes, including Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson and Washington Redskins receiver Santana Moss. They gave him advice on how to fine-tune his techniques, and it has paid off.
“There were a couple of pivots, in routes, where he’s working back to the ball where the corner was hanging on his back and he reached out in a physical way and caught the football with his hands,” Shurmur said. “[Those are] some things that you need to see, so I hope his development continues.”
Benjamin and fellow rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon, whom the Browns selected in the second round of the supplemental draft July 12, are camp roommates at the team’s hotel. The Browns believe Gordon has the potential to become a No. 1 receiver, and he has overshadowed Benjamin since his arrival. Still, Shurmur believes they can both make an impact this year.
“Absolutely,” Shurmur said. “I think both of those guys, if they progress like they’re doing at the pace they’re going now, then I think they’ll major contributors.”
Gordon certainly isn’t counting out his roommate.
“He can catch,” Gordon said of Benjamin. “He can move. He’s a playmaker. He’s a little bit shorter, but he’s fast, explosive — one of the most explosive guys out here.”
And Benjamin believes he and Gordon will give the receiving corps a much-needed boost of talent.
“I can picture me and Josh contributing because every time we’re on offense we’re making that play we’re supposed to play,” Benjmain said. “We’re catching the balls we’re supposed to catch. So if we keep doing that and keep being consistent, it can come through for us.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.