OAKLAND, Calif.: Josh Cribbs is ready to return to his roots.
The Browns’ seven-year veteran said after Sunday’s 24-17 loss to the Oakland Raiders that he’s willing to scrap his role as a wide receiver and go back to playing on every special team because he wants to make an impact.
And he wants to win.
“I’ve been playing special teams for years now and now that I’m not on it, I’m not being used to the point where I can really help this football team,” Cribbs said. “I feel like I’m a dynamic special teams player and I want to refocus back onto how I got in the league, special teams, making tackles, helping the guys out, doing my part.”
Cribbs said he didn’t want to ignite a controversy. He genuinely seemed to be trying to think of how to ignite his team and this is the best way he knows.
“I don’t want to be a problem,” he said. “I feel like I’m so far away because I’m on offense. But I’m just on offense. I’m out there. I could be on the sideline and be the same way.”
The circumstances of the game heightened Cribbs’ frustration. The Raiders scored two touchdowns on dynamic special teams plays like Cribbs used to make. Jacoby Ford returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown, and tight end Kevin Boss caught a 35-yard pass from punter/holder Shane Lechler on a fake field goal.
The Browns had just scored to tie the game 7-7 and within seconds, Ford seized the momentum back. The Raiders went ahead 24-7 before the Browns began their comeback. Cribbs saw how Ford energized O.co Coliseum and longed to deliver that kind of spark. Cribbs has had 10 returns for touchdowns, but he hasn’t scored since he brought back two kickoffs for touchdowns at Kansas City on Dec. 20, 2009.
Cribbs also sounded like he wondered whether Ford would have gone all the way if he had been out there making tackles on the coverage units. It was the first kickoff return for a touchdown given up by the Browns since Buffalo’s Leodis McKelvin went 98 yards on Nov. 17, 2008.
Cribbs’ emotions were also fueled by the Browns’ erratic offense. His 23-yard reception early in the second quarter was their longest play. Cribbs finished with two catches for 30 yards, giving him 14 receptions for 183 yards and a touchdown in five games.
Rookie Greg Little is a part of this, too. Cribbs sees Little coming into his own, catching a team-high six passes for a career-best 72 yards against the Raiders. Cribbs believes the Browns have receivers and tight ends who can make plays.
“Greg has been going good. He’s stepped up a lot,” Cribbs said. “We have capable receivers. My two catches aren’t significant enough. I feel like if I was out there on teams, I could help rally those guys, stop them more or whatever.”
Cribbs conceded he might not feel this way if he was making more of an impact.
“I think it’s the impact,” he said. “Snaps, it’s insignificant. I want to help my team win. My role on offense, when I weigh it to special teams, it’s very insignificant on offense. You get the ball to your athletes. And I feel like I can really help the team on special teams. I just feel like I can help rally the guys to make it even more powerful coverage units. Those guys are great, but they’re young. I can add some experience and help them create more plays.”
Some could say that the Browns don’t need any more disgruntled players speaking out. Running back Peyton Hillis questioned coach Pat Shurmur’s play-calling and tight end Evan Moore was frustrated about his lack of playing time after a 31-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 2. Hillis is seeking a contract extension, so his every move is being scrutinized.
Shurmur did not have an opportunity to address Cribbs’ comments on Sunday. Shurmur must not react to them like Cribbs was second-guessing, but rather consider that his player was thinking aloud about the best way he can help his team win.
Some might hear of Cribbs’ willingness to give up his role on offense and think he’s asking for a demotion. But that’s not the way Cribbs sees it. The undrafted rookie from Kent State, a former Golden Flashes quarterback, earned a job in the NFL by being on every special teams unit and throwing his body around. He went to two Pro Bowls. He was named as the kick returner on the NFL’s all-decade team of the 2000s.
“I need to re-focus myself on how I got into the league,” Cribbs said. “Everyone has to look at themselves in the mirror. When I look at myself, I see special teamer.
“I think I’m more needed on special teams than anything else. Where I’m an asset on this team is special teams.”
Perhaps if his teammates see Cribbs’ willingness to take a step back and return to his pre-glory days, they’ll embrace some of their own less-than-glamorous duties. With the Browns 2-3 and the first half of their schedule looking tougher than expected, it’s a suggestion Shumur can’t afford to ignore.
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