In the aftermath following the disaster that was Johnny Manziel’s first start...
Cleveland Browns Cornerback Buster Skrine in Line to be Primary Kick Returner
When the Cleveland Browns lace up their cleats to start 2014 NFL Training Camp, no longer will fans see proven commodities lining up to receive kicks like that of Joshua Cribbs a few seasons ago. Instead, there will likely be a battle between members of the Browns’ defensive secondary who will look to provide excitement on kickoffs. The hot names to watch thus far belong to cornerbacks Buster Skrine and first-round pick, Justin Gilbert.
As most fans know, Gilbert was a prolific kick returner while at Oklahoma State. Taking 102 kick returns, Gilbert torched kicking units for 2,681 yards and six touchdowns. With an impressive 26.3 average, Gilbert became one of the most dangerous special teams weapons in the entire NCAA. The big problem with putting Gilbert back there, however, is the risk of potentially injuring himself. Typically, the return man is a positional player that is not a valuable starter, and there is a lot expected out of Gilbert.
Skrine, on the other hand, was a pretty consistent returner at Tennessee-Chattanooga as well (as you can see at the 1:41 mark in the video below). While he doesn’t have the big-plays that Gilbert does on his resume, he did field 39 kick returns for 875 yards and a 22.5 average in college. If the Browns aren’t willing to let their prized 2014 first-round pick return kicks, Skrine has the speed and athleticism to do the job at a high level. Just because he is in line to do the returning though, doesn’t mean he’s giving up the starting cornerback job without a battle.
“Do I feel it’s my job to lose? Definitely,” Skrine stated following camp this past week. “I’m not thinking about losing it, but I feel it’s my job. Every year, they bring in a corner, and I feel like I’m holding my ground.”
“Getting all the corner reps, I definitely look at it as my job. In this defense, you play a lot of DBs, so really, the nickel plays a lot of plays. The X plays a lot of plays. It’s just a different type of defense. Everybody plays,” Skrine explained. “I mainly get first-team corner reps, and I go in the slot some plays depending on what the call is.”
While confidence is key, it also doesn’t hurt to have coaches on your side, as is the case for new Browns secondary coach Jeff Hafley, who stated, “I told Bus[ter] the first time I talked to him that when I turned on the film I couldn’t wait to watch Haden, Haden, Haden. And then I saw him (Skrine) out there and it was, ‘Who is this guy?’ [He has] explosive bursts. [He’s] one of the most competitive guys I have ever been around. It’s really exciting to see how he’s come out and competed. I’m really excited about what he brings to our defense.”
Regardless of where the Cleveland Browns decide to use Skrine when the season opens against the Pittsburgh Steelers, you can bet he will have a big role in whether or not the team gets out to a 1-0 record this year. With so many smaller and quicker receivers coming into the league, there will certainly be no shortage of uses Jim O’Neil and the Browns defense can find for a player of Skrine’s caliber, wherever he is on the field.
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