The Cleveland Browns have always had an above average special teams unit. From Gerald McNeil to Eric Metcalf to Dennis Northcutt to Josh Cribbs, the Browns have always been dangerous in the return game. From Lou Groza to Don Cockroft to Mark Moseley to Matt Bahr to Phil Dawson, Cleveland has had their fair share of reliable kickers. Special teams coach Chris Tabor has done a fine job this season. Here are the grades on special teams for this season.
A week before the first regular season game, Cleveland cut both Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogotay. The Browns were left without a place kicker until the signed Billy Cundiff just five days before their home opener. The shoes Cundiff would have to fill would be monstrous as the departed Dawson remained etched in the hearts of Cleveland-ers. So far, Cundiff has missed just two field goals and stayed pretty calm under pressure. Cundiff has knocked down 87% of his attempts, including a long of 51 yards. He booms kickoffs out of the end zone or for touch backs the majority of the time and has just done a nice job this season. Cundiff is a pro’s pro that has yet to cost the Browns a game like many had thought he would do.
Spencer Lanning came into camp fighting for a job. When the cards unfolded, Lanning beat out TJ Conley for the somewhat important position. Tied for the most punts (50) in the NFL, Lanning is averaging 45.7 yards per punt. That is good for 16th in the league, but he has been great at dropping punts inside the 20 yard line, doing it 16 times this season. Lanning has also thrown a touchdown pass this year on a fake field goal attempt.
Both kick and punt return positions have been a little spotty this season. Speedster, Travis Benjamin is out for the year with a knee injury. Despite his small and skinny frame, the Browns could rely on Benjamin’s return efforts many time this season. Now that Benjamin is out, veteran Davone Bess has taken over. Bess single handedly fumbled away a winnable game against the Chiefs. Greg Little has been terrible in kick returning and new addition Fozzy Whittaker has held his own with a 28.5 yard average in five returns.
Every season, it seems like a special teams demon emerges. Last year, it was Johnson Bademosi. This season, there has been a few. Reserve linebacker, Paul Hazel has been one that has stuck out. Although he is out for season with an injury, Josh Aubrey was another one. Finally, long snapper Christian Yount, who recently signed a contract extension, has done everything right. Rarely are his snaps out-of-place and doesn’t make mental errors in the overlooked position.
Ryan Ruiz is the Cleveland Browns Beat Writer for The Inscriber: Digital Magazine. You can follow him on Facebook: Ryan (BrownsWriter) Ruiz and Twitter @ryanpruiz24. Ryan is also a Browns correspondent for The Sportsfix. Tune in every Friday at noon on www.thesportsfix.net. Have a question or comment for the “ASK Ryan” column on Fridays? Email Ryan at [email protected]