Browns consider Cribbs at running back
Cleveland's Josh-of-all-trades is ready to take on yet another new position.
It's not enough that Josh Cribbs, the Browns' do-everything playmaker, returns kickoffs and punts, plays gunner on special teams, lines up at wide receiver and as a quarterback in the wildcat information. Cribbs wouldn't object to playing running back.
And after watching him slice through Pittsburgh's defense, Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas thinks Cribbs would be a great one.
``There's no doubt,'' Thomas said. ``I think he's too valuable to take off of kick return and punt return and special teams, but there's no doubt in my mind, especially after seeing the things that he did that he'd be an extremely successful running back in the NFL.''
Browns coach Eric Mangini just might give it a try.
Lining up in the shotgun last Thursday night, Cribbs rushed for 87 yards as the Browns upset the Steelers 13-6 for just their second win this season. Cribbs, a former college QB, had a career-long 37-yard run to help set up Cleveland's only touchdown and the dreadlocked dynamo broke off a crucial 14-yard run on a 3rd-and-11 play in the fourth quarter when the Browns were trying to eat up some time.
Cribbs, whose agent has had on-and-off negotiations on a contract extension with the Browns for months, doesn't mind multitasking. He's done it since high school, where he earned varsity letters in football, baseball, basketball and swimming. Anyway, running back isn't much of a stretch from his current duties.
``I feel like that's one of my abilities,'' he said. ``My position is running back. I was a running back, back in the day. The wildcat is me at running back. It's a straight handoff. It's not like we're trying to fool you with the quarterback being in the mix. I'm getting the ball and I'm running it.
``Try to stop me.''
At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds Cribbs is a heavy load for any would-be tackler. On several of his six career kickoff TD returns, he has busted through early tackles before finding some open space and accelerating to the end zone. Usually, it takes more than one defender to bring him down.
Legs churning, arms pumping like pistons, Cribbs is a handful and then some for anyone who dares block his path.
On Monday, Mangini said he would be willing to expand Cribbs' role at running back. With Jamal Lewis forced into retirement by a head injury, the Browns have been giving the majority of their carries to undersized Jerome Harrison and Chris Jennings, who began the season on the practice squad.
Mangini can see Cribbs becoming more than just an option in a gimmicky formation.
``As a traditional running back, it wouldn't be something I'd be opposed to,'' Mangini said. ``I've liked the role he has now. But that's definitely something we could continue to explore and figure out more ways. There's some merit to getting in multiple receiver groups, being able to motion him back into the backfield and use him as a running back that way. We did a little of that with Brad Smith in New York. It's definitely something to look at.''
Against the Steelers' No. 1-ranked rushing defense, Cribbs averaged 10.9 yards on eight carries. Thomas said it was a sight to behold live - and on tape.
``The guy's got some unbelievable vision, just watching the game film and seeing him going to his left and step toward the sideline,'' Thomas said. ``He must have some unbelievable vision because he could see all the way back to his right, there was a lane the whole way back, like some of the greatest running backs in the NFL could. He hit a seam and took it for about 20-some yards.
``He kind of takes the approach that it's a punt return. But the vision he's got is amazing.''
The Browns envision a long-term future with Cribbs, whom they signed as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2005. The 26-year-old has been asking the club to redo his contract since the summer. At various points, Cribbs threatened to sit out training camp or not play a regular-season game unless he got a new deal.
Instead, he has proven his worth.
Last week, Mangini reiterated that the Browns want to reward Cribbs. He was confident a deal could be finalized with Cleveland's MVP: most versatile player.
That's all Cribbs ever wanted.
``I try to speak on my contract by my play on the field,'' he said. ``I try to let that talk for me so I can have something to back it up. In my position, leverage is everything. The only leverage I have is how well I can play and how well I've been playing. I have to keep playing good so I can have some type of argument when I do try to get a bigger contract or a different contract.''