BEREA: The Browns didn’t win much when Brad Seely was a member of the organization during the past two seasons, but they certainly had excellent special teams.
Actually, the Browns have been solid on special teams since their rebirth in 1999. So why is this season proving to be the exception?
After Eric Mangini was fired as head coach and replaced with Pat Shurmur, Seely left the Browns to take the same job with the San Francisco 49ers. Seely will reunite with the Browns (3-3) on Sunday when they visit the 49ers (5-1).
“I spoke to Brad Seely like I did with a lot of the coaches on last year’s staff, and we visited,” Shurmur said. “He felt like he had a good opportunity in San Francisco, and that’s where he wanted to go.”
Chris Tabor, who was an assistant special teams coach for the Chicago Bears during the past three seasons, has been trying to fill Seely’s giant shoes since. He and the Browns have a lot of ground to make up.
But remember: The Browns’ rough transition was foreshadowed.
They had three glaring special teams breakdowns Aug. 25 in a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles. They botched two punt returns and allowed a blocked field goal.
The sloppiness has seeped into the regular season.
In the Browns’ past two games, Tabor’s units haven’t been anything special. Against the Oakland Raiders, they allowed a 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, plus another touchdown on a fake field goal. Then they gave up two blocked field goals and an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown, which was wiped out because of a penalty, against the Seattle Seahawks.
In Tabor’s defense, the Browns have undergone significant personnel changes since Seely’s departure. Most of their core special teams players from the past few seasons, including Jason Trusnik, Blake Costanzo and Nick Sorensen, are long gone.
“In the special teams world, it’s a revolving door,” Tabor said. “There’s guys coming and going, and we’re continuing to get experience each and every week. I just believe that we have hit a little tough time right here, but we have to stay the course and continue to coach them.”
Seely, though, never hit such a big bump in the road while he was in Northeast Ohio. In the special teams rankings of Dallas Morning News sports writer Rick Gosselin, the Browns finished first in 2009 and third in 2010. Now the 49ers are flourishing with Seely’s guidance.
Tabor knew his predecessor would cast a big shadow.
“Sure,” Tabor said. “But life is full of challenges. If you’re not willing to take on one, then I don’t think you’ll ever be successful. Regardless of what people think on the outside, you have to go after it and just put your head down and keep working hard and go. I just truly believe when you do those things, good things will happen.”
The Browns hope so. They’re not good enough to overcome special teams collapses and win on a consistent basis. They got away with a few meltdowns in their 6-3 win over the Seahawks, but it won’t happen again.
It’s too early to tell if Tabor is in over his head. He learned a lot from special teams guru Dave Toub while he was with the Bears, but those lessons must soon translate into success for his new team. After all, Seely is looking to school the Browns.
“I think he has a scheme specifically for us,” return man Josh Cribbs said. “He’s a hard-nosed coach. He’s not the one to kick away from people. We don’t expect any pooch balls or anything to be kicked away. You’ve gotta give his team a lot of credit. We [were] actually looking at film on them [and] coaching ourselves. They’re a really good team. They’re coached really well. We’ll have our work cut out for us.”
Tabor does, too. He needs to clean up a mess in a hurry.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow the Browns on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ABJ_Browns and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/browns.abj.