BEREA, Ohio – Speedy wide receiver Travis Benjamin made a strong but brief first impression in his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns.
Benjamin can really fly. Was it last year’s offense, durability issues or just inexperience and situation that kept him from flying more often?
We might find out this season — and soon. In the meantime let’s find out something else.
Who is Travis Benjamin?
1. He believes he’s one of the five fastest guys in the league.
Benjamin doesn’t say much, but he said that on Monday. That, yes, he believes he’s one of the five fastest players in the entire NFL.
“There are a lot of fast guys out there, (too many) to throw names out,” Benjamin said. “But I’d have to say I’m top five.”
A former track star from a school (Miami-Fla.) that has produced plenty of them, Benjamin showed some pretty good football speed in his limited opportunities last season. He caught 18 passes, was targeted 37 times and got 6 opportunities in the return game, producing a 93-yard punt return touchdown and later a 40-yarder.
He also had a 35-yard run and a 69-yard touchdown catch.
“Defenses know that if they don’t respect my speed I can run past them at any time,” Benjamin said.
Asked if he’s ever been caught from behind while playing football, he seemed almost offended that it would be possible.
2. He is not Joshua Cribbs.
Benjamin might replace Cribbs as the Browns primary punt returner this season. Maybe he’ll be the kick returner, too.
The Browns might need to pick one or the other. The team lists Benjamin at 5’10, 175 — and an inch and 10 pounds of that might be in his braided hair. He certainly won’t be asked to cover kicks the way Cribbs did for years.
Having Benjamin on the roster might be part of the reason the Browns decision-makers decided to let Cribbs walk after eight mostly remarkable seasons. Cribbs’ best football is behind him, but even when he wasn’t making a bunch of big plays he was still one of the league’s most reliable special teams players.
Benjamin’s 93-yard punt return touchdown last December against the Chiefs came when the Browns sent both Cribbs and Benjamin back in a rare two-returner look.
“I learned a lot from Cribbs,” Benjamin said. “He was so smooth in catching (kicks). He taught me a lot about alignment, about what to do when the ball is coming down. In some stadiums, you have to look up at the lights. It’s all about seeing the ball.”
Benjamin said he doesn’t prefer punt returns to kick returns, or vice versa. He said he’s “60/40” better at punt returns right now, but he’s working at both.
“They tell me I’m going back there, and I’m just ready to do it,” he said.
3. He didn’t feel the need to bulk up while preparing for an expanded role.
“Just training — regular training, working on routes, catching punts with people,” he said. “I’ve been at this weight the last four or five years and I’ve been on the right path. It’s about the same.”
Benjamin got hurt in the preseason last summer and missed two regular-season games to injury last year, too. Again, he’s not Cribbs, who used to bulk up before the season and then gradually play himself into top speed. Cribbs loved contact; Benjamin seems to love running past people.
Asked if he’s bothered that people perceive him as too small or too fragile to really thrive in the NFL, Benjamin said people are entitled to their opinions. His is that he’ll be just fine.
He’s counting on the old theory that opposing players can’t hit what they can’t catch.
“It’s a great feeling knowing I can help put the offense in great field position, in position to score,” he said.
4. If the Browns are going to score (and win) early on, they need Benjamin at his best.
Benjamin said he’s been learning the new offensive system and trying to become a better route runner. He said he already sees improved “timing. Brandon (Weeden) has such a strong arm that I come out of the break and he pops it right there.”
Potential No. 1 receiver Josh Gordon has what the team is calling patella tendinitis. Even if Gordon gets healthy soon, the Browns have to prepare for two games without him. Gordon is the Browns best deep threat receiver — unless Benjamin can be.
“We’ve been rotating every day,” Benjamin said. “It’s a great feeling getting in there with the (first-team offense) and just making progress with it.”