Sunday, July 15, 2018

Questions seeking answers Part 3

When evaluating special teams in the National Football League, one must take into account that one of the aspects of that part of the team might disappear in the not-too-distant future.

It is difficult not to think the NFL is well on its way to legislating the kickoff out of existence. Numerous tweaks of the rules the last few years to what used to be one of the staples of the game of football have reduced it to a joke.

It won’t be long before the league, once it decides to stop fussing around and just do it, declares that after touchdowns and successful field goals, the opposing team automatically starts at its 25-yard line on the next possession.

That way, the concussion scare that has swept through the board rooms all around the NFL will diminish after it was determined too many such injuries occurred on kickoffs.

The only part for kicking specialists that remains the same are attempts for field goals and points after touchdowns. The only change there was moving the PAT attempt back several yards.

The punting game is an entirely different matter. That aspect of special teams hasn’t been touched. It remains the same . . . until owners find something wrong there, too.

That said, let’s examine the Browns’ special teams, which haven’t been special since Josh Cribbs left after the 2012 season. Not only was he a terrific gunner on coverage, he amassed more than 11,000 yards in returns over a 10-year career, mostly with the Browns, scoring eight times on punts returns and three times on kickoffs.

Any Josh Cribbses on this year’s team?

Not even close. It was thought Jabrill Peppers, a solid return man in college at Michigan, would be that guy. He disappointed in both categories last season, averaging only six yards a tote on 30 punt returns and just 22,7 yards on 14 kickoff returns.

It’s likely Peppers will get another shot at both duties again this season along with a few other newcomers in an effort to shake this team loose from its special teams doldrums.

Is there any good news regarding special teams?

Not unless punter Britton Colquitt’s 47.6-yard average qualifies as good news. He dropped 24 of his 80 punts (five a game) inside the opponent’s 20-yard line with only two touchbacks. Does that qualify?

Yep, which kinds of makes you wonder why General Manager John Dorsey claimed second-year pro Justin Vogel off waivers. He’s slightly bigger than Colquitt and about 10 years younger . . . and a whole lot cheaper. Training camp fodder perhaps?

How safe is placekicker Zane Gonzalez?

A whole lot safer than Colquitt with only rookie Ross Martin pressing him. Martin is another Cleveland area kid (Walsh Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls) who is on board to give Gonzalez an occasional rest from the every-day grind of training camp.

Gonzalez had a wobbly rookie season in 2017, hitting on only 15 of 20 field-goal attempts and missing one of his 26 points after. He missed two field goals from 30-39 yards, two from 40-49 yards and yet connected on two of his three attempts from beyond 50 yards.

What about new special teams coach Amos Jones?

It’s still a head scratcher why Jones was hired after the Browns chose to let Chris Tabor rejoin the Chicago Bears. Jones was a favorite of Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians the last few seasons, but the Cards’ special teams were awful last season. When Arians retired, the door leading to the Browns opened.

Rick Gosselin, a Dallas-based NFL writer who has ranked special teams for many years and is considered one of the foremost experts in that area, ranked the Browns 27th (tied with Chicago) overall last season. Arizona was ranked 30th.

Gosselin arrives at his final rankings using 22 categories. The Browns and Cardinals did not wind up in the top five in any of those categories, but the Browns finished last in number of field goals, worst starting line following a kickoff and tied with many teams for last place in points (not including kicks) and takeaways.

Now Jones might have been a good coach several years ago when the Cardinals under Arians became a force in the league, but he can’t brag in the what-have-you–done-for-me-lately department.

Next: The coaching staff

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