BEREA: Reporters badgered former Browns coach Butch Davis weekly about cornerback Leigh Bodden before the team’s 2007 interception leader finally saw game action in 2003.
During coach Bill Belichick’s five years in Cleveland, a revolving door filled the final five spots on the roster, an indication of the importance Belichick placed on them.
Even during Ray Farmer’s two franchise-wrecking years as general manager, the personnel department found potential diamonds in the rough in running back Isaiah Crowell and defensive lineman Jamie Meder.
Bodden, left tackle Tony Jones, safeties Earl Little and Tashaun Gipson and wide receiver/kick returner Josh Cribbs were former Browns bypassed in the NFL draft who parlayed the chips on their shoulders into professional success.
But the team may not have seen a day like Sunday, when three players claimed off waivers on Sept. 4 put the Browns on the brink of victory against the Miami Dolphins.
Defensive end Tyrone Holmes and cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun teamed up for a second quarter interception return, Holmes tipping a Ryan Tannehill pass and Boddy-Calhoun running it back 27 yards for the score. Linebacker Corey Lemonier made the play of his life with 20 seconds remaining in regulation. His sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery set up the Browns at the Miami 27, but kicker Cody Parkey’s 46-yard game-winning field goal attempt sailed wide left and the Dolphins prevailed 30-24 in overtime.
Boddy-Calhoun became the first player in Browns history to get a pick-six in his NFL debut. Lemonier hadn’t had a sack since 2013. Holmes played only 14 snaps and recorded three hurries, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Of the three, only Boddy-Calhoun went undrafted. Holmes was a sixth-round pick of Jacksonville in 2016, Lemonier a third-round choice of the 49ers in 2013.
Their performances against the Dolphins were examples of coach Hue Jackson’s and his staff’s abilities to build around players’ talents and put them in the best position to succeed. That hasn’t been a trait of a Browns coach since the days of “I-can-only-go-by-what-I-see” Belichick.
On Friday, defensive coordinator Ray Horton said his mantra was “Everybody that has a hat will play.” But it’s one thing to give a lot of people opportunities as the team rebuilds, quite another to develop them into game-changers.
“Ray’s good at building confidence in a guy, finding out their specialties and what they do best,” third-year linebacker Chris Kirksey said. “Whether you’re on the practice squad or on the team, you’re here for a reason.”
Boddy-Calhoun said he and Holmes flew to Cleveland together after being waived by the Jaguars and claimed by the Browns; they’ve been film study partners since. But Boddy-Calhoun, now the backup to Joe Haden, said he was first exposed to Horton’s philosophy under coach Jerry Kill at the University of Minnesota.
“He used to say, ‘We’re going to use everybody in this room. When your opportunity steps up, there’s no excuse, you should be ready,’?” Boddy-Calhoun said of Kill.
All may believe in that philosophy. But not having a giant drop-off in play when a second- or third-stringer gets his chance requires intense pregame preparation, Boddy-Calhoun said.
“That’s what [characterizes] a good team — guys holding each other accountable, holding each other to a high standard,” he said.
Kirksey said he thought Lemonier, an Auburn product, could play when he arrived because he is big (6-foot-3, 253 pounds), athletic and has the speed to get around the corner.
But the Browns know all too well that measurables don’t make the man. Just as valuable as the team tries to build is the common trait Boddy-Calhoun, Holmes and Lemonier share.
“All three of us are very hungry and want to make an impact,” said Holmes, from the University of Montana.
The Browns need more like them, more hungry players who can be molded by a coaching staff that knows how to use them best.
“I think the mark of a great NFL coach is that he looks at what he has from a talent standpoint and he develops a game plan that maximizes his talent and tries to attack the opponent’s weakness,” Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said.
Whether Jackson proves to be a great NFL coach may take years to determine. Boddy-Calhoun, Holmes and Lemonier were game-changers for only a day. For the Browns to win in 2016 and beyond, they must regularly repeat their feats.
“To watch those guys show up in games and make plays, that is truly what pro football is about. You have to make the play when the opportunity presents itself,” Jackson said. “Now they need to do it on a consistent basis. You don’t want to be a one-time wonder.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.