BEREA, Ohio — There’s no question that Travis Benjamin has big play ability on special teams as evidenced by his 91-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first preseason game last week against the Rams. Benjamin said he knew he was going to score a touchdown once he turned the corner.
“(I was thinking) just get in the end zone,” he said. “I know if I can get the edge on anybody and get a key block to get to the edge I can get to the end zone.”
Benjamin is replacing Josh Cribbs as the team’s punt returner. Cribbs sent a twitter message to Benjamin congratulating him on his touchdown.
“Josh was a great mentor while he was here,” Benjamin said. “(I learned) just by watching him and learning things he did helped me with my game.
“He always had great advice for me.”
Benjamin had just three punt returns in 2012, but had a 93-yard return for touchdown against the Chiefs. If you count the preseason score, Benjamin has scored on two of his four returns.
However, Benjamin continues to make plays in practice every day as a receiver and is being counted upon to be one of the key contributors on the receiving corps.
“I feel with my speed on offense or special teams, any time I get on the field I can make a difference,” he said. “I feel great and feel that I’m coming out here every day and getting better. I feel slowly but surely I’m getting into the offense.”
Rob Chudzinski said he’s counting on Benjamin to not only return punts, but as a receiver, as well. He will be very important in the first two games while Josh Gordon serves a two-game suspension.
“We’ll use (Benjamin) as a receiver,” Chudzinski said. “Whether Josh is there or not, we’ll use him as a receiver during the course of the season. He’s a guy with a really unique skill set with the speed that he has. He’s definitely somebody we want to take advantage of and find a role for. He will be more important in those first couple games.”
Benjamin caught 18 passes for 298 yards (16.6 average) with two touchdowns in his rookie season, including a 69-yard touchdown reception against the Redskins. He caught one pass for 12 yards against the Rams in the only ball thrown his way.
Benjamin is not looking to just be used as a replacement for Gordon.
“I’m going into Game One looking to have a great game to fill in for Josh and in Game Two and Game Three just play the best I can.”
Benjamin is a slight 5-10, 175 pounds and some wonder if he can hold down being a receiver, as well as the punt returner. However, Chudzinski is not one of them.
“I really don’t (worry about that),” he said. “I’ve been around some smaller guys as receivers, who have done the dual roles. We’ll keep those guys fresh enough.”
Brandon Weeden said that Benjamin had the most catches among receivers in the spring practices. Chudzinski didn’t know that, but said Benjamin has been performing well.
“He has really caught the ball well,” he said “I haven’t checked (practice reception totals) lately, but he’s up there as one of the top guys (in receptions).”
Benjamin spent the off-season training in Boca Raton, Florida with some NFL veteran receivers, including Anquin Boldin.
“I spent time just training and working on my routes every day with guys like Anquin Boldin and guys like that who have been in the league awhile,” he said.
Benjamin was asked what he told him to do.
“(He said) stay focused and be on top of your technique because you are the only one who knows where you’re going on your route.”
Chudzinski said he looked at Benjamin from last year’s tape and feels he has improved immensely.
“He’s gotten a lot better,” Chudzinski said. “He’s using his speed better in his routes as opposed to last year where he was just a guy who ran deep. Up to this point, he’s shown the ability to run the shorter (routes) as well and get in and out of breaks real well.”
Chudzinski also likes that he and Weeden are developing chemistry.
“I’ve noticed more and more working extra with Weeden,” he said. “I’m pleased with that and some of that chemistry is developing between the receivers and the quarterback.”
Benjamin had a nice touchdown grab from 14 yards out in Saturday’s practice from Brian Hoyer.
“We had zero coverage (no safety) and anytime you have zero coverage you have an advantage,” he said. “We had a great play call and they got me open in the corner.”
T Rich Update: Chudzinski was asked about Richardson playing against the Lions next Thursday after Saturday’s practice.
“Trent’s been practicing,” he said. “He’s been back, but we’ll wait until later in the week on that.”
Chudzinski said Richardson has not been receiving treatment for the shin and he probably wouldn’t have played against the Rams regardless.
“It’s part of the overall plan,” he said. “We want him ready to go opening day.”
Richardson was in individual drills, but remained out of team drills.
Super Joe : CB Joe Haden continues to have an outstanding training camp. He intercepted QB Brandon Weeden on two passes in Saturday’s practice, including one for a touchdown.
“He made a really nice break on a couple of balls,” Chudzinski said. “His approach has been aggressive and he continues to work at it.”
Haden said the coaching staff has allowed him to play aggressively.
“The coaches have let me jump routes to see what I can get.”
Later in practice, Weeden did hit WR Greg Little in the end zone with Haden covering.
Lauvao Out: OL Shawn Lauvao will miss the start of the regular according to Chudzinski. Lauvao had arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle and some reports said it is estimated that he’ll miss about six weeks, which would include two to three regular season games
“He’ll miss some time early in the regular season,” he said Friday. “I don’t have any definitive dates and times on that. We’ll just have to see how that goes from the results of the scope and how he’ll progress over the next few weeks.”
Lauvao has started 32 straight games over the past two seasons at right guard. He will be replaced by OL Jason Pinkston, who missed the final 10 games in 2012 with a blood clot in his lung. Pinkston started all of 2011 and the first six games of 2012 at left guard.
“Jason has had experience there and been effective there,” Chudzinski said. “So that’s definitely a high hope for us.”
Lauvao was injured near the end of practice last Monday during one-on-one blocking drills with DL Phil Taylor.
Seventh-round draft pick Garrett Gilkey (6-6, 320) is the most likely backing up Pinkston at guard. Chudzinski said Gilkey played pretty well in his debut against the Rams in the preseason opener last Thursday.
“Gilkey was pretty solid in there in the protections and his effort was really good finishing blocks,” Chudzinski said. “He show some physicality and I’m pretty sure no mental mistakes, so I think he didm a good job.”
Injury Update: The Browns had 14 players inactive for the Rams game, but Chudzinski expects to get some of them back for next week’s game with the Lions.. DB T.J. Ward and DB Jamoris Slaughter were back at practice Saturday.
“It was good to get a couple of guys back in T. J. and Jamoris Slaughter.”
However, WR Jordan Norwood (hamstring) was not practicing along with CB Leon McFadden (groin), CB Chris Owens (foot), WR David Nelson (knee), OL Chris Faulk (knee), OL Ryan Miller (head), RB Montario Hardesty (hamstring), OL Oniel Cousins (ankle), OL Shawn Lauvao (ankle), TE Brad Smelley (hamstring) and FB Brock Bolen (calf).
Chudzinski said Norwood slightly pulled his hamstring in the game with the Rams.
DL Dave Kruger returned to practice after missing some time with a concussion. DL Hall Davis left practice with his hamstring taped.
Friendly Competition: Near the end of practice, Chudzinski yelled out that the loser on the final goal line play would eat peanut butter sandwiches for supper. On the play, Weeden threw a pass to RB Dion Lewis who dove for the end zone and the referee called it a touchdown. However, Chudzinski said that one of the linebackers got to Weeden before he threw the ball.
“It depends on who you talk to,” he said. “I called it a sack. I put myself out on that one.”
The second unit had the same situation and DB Abdul Kennah intercepted a pass in the end zone intended for WR Naaman Roosevelt from QB Jason Campbell.
Mayock Visits: NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock was at Browns practice Saturday.