Browns positional analysis: Specialists

Posted March 07, 2011 @ 10:54 a.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

This is the ninth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Browns' personnel entering the 2011 season. Here is our analysis of Cleveland's special teams: 

Overview: The special teams were a strength in 2010. The Browns allowed a league-low 17.8 yards per opponent kickoff return and were fifth in opponent punt-return average (7.1 yards). However, special-teams coordinator Brad Seely took the same job with the 49ers after head coach Eric Mangini was fired in January.

Bears assistant special-teams coach Chris Tabor was hired to replace Seely. The Bears' special teams, led by coordinator Dave Toub, are among the NFL's most respected, and Tabor has a wealth of talent to work with in Cleveland. 

Here's a breakdown of the Browns' special teams: 

PK Phil Dawson — The 36-year-old Dawson has been with the team since it returned to NFL play in 1999, and he seems likely to return for a 13th season after the club gave him the franchise tag in the offseason. Dawson will reportedly make around $3.25 million in 2011 should he sign his franchise tender. He connected on 23-of-28 field-goal attempts in 2010 and averaged 60.6 yards on 67 kickoffs. Dawson has been rather reliable over the years, hitting better than 82 percent of his field goals in seven of the last eight seasons.  

RS Joshua Cribbs — Cribbs endured his toughest season as a professional. For the first time in six seasons, he did not return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown. He averaged only 20.4 yards on kickoffs and just 8.4 yards on punts. Teams did a very good job neutralizing Cribbs, sometimes kicking short, other times not kicking to him at all. What's more, Cribbs suffered a concussion and several discloated toes. 

P Reggie Hodges — Hodges replaced the injured Dave Zastudil before the start of the 2010 season and eventually won the job outright. The 29-year-old Hodges' 39.0-yard net average was a career-best, and 29 of his punts were downed inside the opposition's 20-yard line (also a career-best). He displayed a knack for pinning the opposition deep in their own end with a rugby-style punt, where the nose of the ball is pointed downward before the kick. For as well as Hodges punted last season, his highlight might have been a 68-yard run up the middle on a fake punt in the upset of New Orleans. 

LS Ryan Pontbriand — The ninth-year Rice product is one of the more well-regarded long-snappers in the game. 

Bottom line: The Browns are sound and explosive on special teams. Cribbs is one of the NFL's best returners, and the coverage units are exceptional, too. Dawson is very steady, and Hodges comes off a career season.