Josh Cribbs was in the Pro Bowl in February and out of a job six months later.
A knee injury put his career in doubt as the NFL season started without him. Finally, the New York Jets called, offering Cribbs the chance he wasn’t sure would ever come.
”This is like a rebirth for me,” Cribbs said after his first practice Wednesday.
”It’s a fresh start. As a rookie, I came in undrafted and I had to prove to everybody — everybody in the NFL and everybody on my team — that I could play on this team and do well and produce. I have to do that now again, just to show everybody, `Dang, he’s still got it.’
”And that’s what I want, for people to be like, `Oh, man, he’s still here.”’
The three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver-kick returner signed Tuesday with the Jets after sitting out since being cut by Oakland in late August. He wasn’t completely healed from the offseason surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
”I took some time off to get healthy,” he said. ”I’m healthy now, 110 percent. Kind of 111 percent.”
In eight seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Cribbs established himself as one of the league’s greatest return men. He’s tied with New England’s Leon Washington for the most kickoff-return touchdowns in NFL history with eight, and has also returned three punts for scores.
Even with a bad knee last season, Cribbs made it to the Pro Bowl as a replacement for Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones. He even caught a touchdown pass from Matt Schaub in the NFL’s all-star game.
”I think with that name on the back, he stands there and you’re going to be a little nervous because we’ve all been scorched by him in the past,” Rex Ryan said. ”There’s a knack for hitting those returns.”
If he’s completely healthy, he could instantly improve a special teams unit that hasn’t done much to help the offense with starting field position. And, he could be a versatile presence to help rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
But there are some who doubt Cribbs is that type of playmaker anymore.
”Hey, I’ll use that, and I’m trying to hear that,” he said. ”I’ve heard a lot of good from fans, and I love that. But I want to hear the naysayers because I use that for motivation. I’ve been working hard, especially after my workout here. The GM said, `Be ready. Be ready.’
”Well, I’m ready.”
Cribbs worked out for the Jets two weeks ago, and thought he was going to be signed in time to play against the Steelers. On Monday, his agent called him and simply said: ”J-E-T-S!”
”That was the call we’ve been waiting on,” Cribbs said.
Cribbs has averaged 25.9 yards on kickoff returns and 11 yards on punt returns. He has 107 career receptions for 1,161 yards and seven touchdowns, and has rushed for 753 yards and two scores, along with experience running the wildcat formation.
The former Kent State quarterback is also 4 of 12 passing in his career.
”I think I could be a little lightning in here, even on offense,” Cribbs said. ”I don’t know how they’re going to use me yet … but I’m going to be in there. And teams are going to have to check into a `safe’ like, `He can throw, run and pass. Back up!”’
He also hopes to be a ”second Geno,” and teach him some new option-style plays that could come in handy.
”However I can be used to help electrify this team,” Cribbs said, ”and add that oomph and be that `it’ factor.”
For a Jets team trying to get into the playoff picture, they can use that starting Sunday against the AFC East-rival New England Patriots.
Cribbs already received a quick introduction to a rivalry that has been decidedly one-sided in recent years. The Jets have lost their past five against the Patriots since a win in the playoffs in the 2010 season.
”I saw it in his eyes in the team meeting,” Cribbs said of Ryan. ”He really wants this game. It’s equivalent to a Cleveland-Pittsburgh game. He was like, `Rest your legs and go home. Don’t do anything for your wife. Say, `Baby, next week. I’m going to do it next week. I’m going to take out the trash next week. I’ll take the kids to practice next week. But I’ve got to rest for this game.’
”I’m going to tell him to put it on paper, so when I give it to my wife, I can be like, `Hey, Rex said that I don’t have to take out the trash.’ So he might get a call from my wife.”