December 21, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
28°F
 

Browns kickoff return man remains mystery

Scott Petrak

The Gazette

BEREA — Coach Rob Chudzinski wants to keep the Dolphins in the dark when it comes to who will return kickoffs Sunday in the opener.

“I’m going to keep that to myself for the time being,” Chudzinski said Friday. “But we have a pool of guys that I’m comfortable with and that we’ve been getting reps with.”

There are plenty of interested parties.

Receiver/punt returner Travis Benjamin has said for weeks he expects to also return kickoffs. Newly acquired backup running back Bobby Rainey said he worked as the No. 1 returner in practice Friday. Backup free safety Johnson Bademosi was listed first on the depth chart. And Dennis Johnson, another backup running back acquired this week, set the Southeastern Conference record for kickoff return yardage.

Benjamin returned a punt for a touchdown last year as a rookie and another during the preseason and would probably be the first choice. But with starting receiver Josh Gordon suspended for the first two weeks and only four receivers on the active roster, the coaches might not want to risk putting Benjamin back on kickoffs.

“I’m in great shape, knowing I can do kickoff return, punt return, offense,” Benjamin said. “It’s not a lot. I’ve done it plenty of times before. Hopefully I’ll be back there.”

Chudzinski could decide to elevate receiver Tori Gurley from the practice squad to free up Benjamin for returns.

If not, Rainey was trying to get up to speed after being claimed off waivers Sunday.

“Things change quickly,” he said. “I don’t know how it’s going to work out. I’ll be ready.”

Kickoff return wasn’t an issue in the previous eight seasons as Joshua Cribbs returned eight for touchdowns, which is tied for an NFL record, and earned three trips to the Pro Bowl. Running back Dion Lewis had the job in the preseason, but was lost for the season with a broken leg.

Oh, captain, my captain

The players picked captains, and two were re-elected from last season.

Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (defense) and left tackle Joe Thomas (offense) were chosen again. They were joined by free-agent acquisition Quentin Groves on special teams. Groves, a backup outside linebacker, took the captaincy held last year by kicker Phil Dawson, who left in free agency.

“It was very important to me, as well as the guys on the team, that we would be able to vote for and have captains who represent us, both on the field and off the field, what we’re trying to do in terms of creating the culture and the identity that we want here,” Chudzinski said. “I am very pleased with who they picked.”

Groves was signed in March after stops in Jacksonville, Oakland and Arizona in his first five years in the league.

“It’s a blessing. It’s a gift. It’s something that I give thanks to all my teammates,” he said.

Chudzinski will also name a weekly captain and chose receiver Davone Bess for the opener against Miami, his former team.

A ‘Johnny football’ fan

New Browns offensive lineman Patrick Lewis protected Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel last year as Texas A&M’s center. Lewis still has his back.

“That’s my boy, I’ve got a lot of love for Johnny,” Lewis said.

Manziel has made almost daily headlines for his actions on and off the field, and many are negative. He was criticized for his party lifestyle in the offseason, was at the center of an autograph controversy and suspended for the first half of A&M’s opener.

When he got on the field, he fed the frenzy. He told a Rice defender he wouldn’t give him an autograph, while making a signing gesture. After a touchdown, he rubbed his fingers together to symbolize making money. After another touchdown, he was benched for trash talking.

“I definitely see it,” Lewis said of the “Johnny Football” mania. “But I know Johnny personally. I never had any problems with him.

“If he walked in here right now you wouldn’t know that’s the kid that everybody’s making all this buzz about. Nobody’s perfect, but at the end of the day he’s still a great guy.”

Lewis referred to Manziel as a “great player,” and said he watched the Aggies’ victory last week.

“A lot of people were giving him a lot of crap about the hand gestures, but that’s something that we as A&M players did last year,” Lewis said of the money signal, not the autograph on.

Lewis was claimed Sunday after the Packers waived him.

The high road

Chudzinski wouldn’t get pulled into a back-and-forth with Panthers receiver Steve Smith.

“I’ve been focusing on Miami, and anything else, I’m not worried about,” Chudzinski said.

Chudzinski spent the last two years in Carolina as offensive coordinator, and Smith was his No. 1 wideout. But on a conference call with Seahawks reporters Wednesday, Smith took a shot at Chudzinski.

“The prior offensive coordinator really was positioning himself to just apply for that head coaching job,” Smith said. “I think our offense suffered little bit because of that.

“At times, we got cute. We did things that weren’t necessarily us, like the under-utilizing of (running back) Mike Tolbert.”

Not-so-secret weapon

Quarterback Brandon Weeden loves what running back Trent Richardson can do and he’s a big fan of his receivers and tight ends. But he thinks the strongest part of the offense is coordinator Norv Turner.

“He’s a huge asset, probably the biggest asset for this offense,” Weeden said. “This is his system. He’s been doing it for a long time.

“He knows what we do well and what we’re able to do as far as our receivers and tight ends. He’s going to try to put us in position, but there’s going to be times he’s not going to call the perfect play. It’s up to us to make it work, me and the receivers and up front.”

Extra points

Defensive end Desmond Bryant (back) practiced fully after being limited Wednesday and Thursday and was listed as probable for the opener.

l Backup cornerbacks Will Davis and Jamar Taylor and third-string quarterback Pat Devlin were ruled out for the Dolphins. Starting cornerback Dimitri Patterson (ankle) was limited in practice and listed as questionable.

Patterson joined the Browns in 2011 and was cut in December last year.

l Hall of Fame receiver Paul Warfield, who played for the Browns in 1964-69 and 1976-77, is getting a life-sized bronze statue outside the stadium at Warren G. Harding High School, where Warfield starred in football, basketball and track.

The statue will be unveiled next Thursday at 6 p.m. during a ceremony in front of Mollenkopf Stadium. A dinner in the cafetorium at 7:15 is open to the community and tickets are $10. The project is funded solely by donations, which are being accepted through Warren Harding’s athletic department.

Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.