One of the best returners in Cleveland Browns history left the team in the offseason.
As it turns out, the Browns may be using a faster, more elusive punt returner -- and in the end he may turn out to be just as good and maybe better than Josh Cribbs. Travis Benjamin has more quickness and pure speed than Cribbs, and when he gets any room to maneuver he is a threat.
Benjamin only returns punts -- he’s too frail to return kickoffs -- but Thursday night in the win over Buffalo he had a 79-yard return for a touchdown and a 57-yard return. Total, he set a team record with 179 yards in returns (the previous record was held by Eric Metcalf, who returned two punts for TDs in a win over Pittsburgh in October 1993).
“Fabulous,” coach Rob Chudzinski said after the game.
“Fastest man on the field,” tight end Jordan Cameron said.
All he needs is room to get going. And Bills punter Shawn Powell gave Benjamin room plenty of times. His kicks were long -- 45.5 yards -- but they were low, and he kept outkicking the coverage (sort of like I did with my wife). To the point that Buffalo released Powell the day after the game.
“It’s only a matter of time in this league before you get exposed,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said.
Benjamin has room to grow. He goes through games where he has trouble catching the ball, or does little on returns. He’s also so small that there is a constant risk of being injured.
Too, on the 59-yard return he let Powell shove him out of bounds. The cardinal sin for a returner is being stopped by the punter. Benjamin let it happen on the first, but on the second he ran through the tackle.
The key to any success is consistency, and Benjamin had a strong preseason but averaged just 7.7 yards per return in the first four games.
He provides hope with this game.
Letting Cribbs go was the right decision by the new Browns regime -- even though it was disappointing for the fans, it was time.
Counting on Benjamin was a risk. A year ago he looked small and injury prone and too inconsistent to play on offense. There’s a lot of guys who try to rely on pure speed who don’t succeed in football.
But Benjamin made a statement about his value against the Bills.
He just needs to continue what he started.