The Cleveland Browns brought seven new wide receivers to training camp this year. None of those seven are expected to unseat Josh Gordon 1 or Greg Little from their starting spots. The Browns traded for Davone Bess to help move the chains on third down, something Bess had been very good at throughout his career.
They also signed the 6-foot-5-inch David Nelson in free agency. Nelson is recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon, but the Browns are hoping that the former Buffalo Bill can someday duplicate or better his 2011 season in which he caught over 60 passes and scored five touchdowns. The Browns are taking an affordable gamble on him.
While Gordon, Little and Bess take the majority of the first team snaps, one other Browns receiver is having a very good camp.
Second year receiver Travis Benjamin is catching passes and getting noticed. That’s a good thing. He’s almost the forgotten man on that offense. When Browns fans talk about how the offense could be improved this season, rarely does Benjamin’s name come up.
Of course quarterback Brandon Weeden’s progress is vital to the success of the team, as is the health and and performance of last year’s top pick Trent Richardson. Most of the talk this off-season about the receiving corps focused on Josh Gordon’s suspension or development. Greg Little was praised for working hard and having a more professional attitude. Even Bess and tight end Jordan Cameron were discussed much more than Benjamin.
Travis Benjamin could end up the team’s most dynamic weapon in the passing game after Gordon however.
Is it so far-fetched? Greg Little has certainly worked hard in the off-season, but he still isn’t a precise route-runner and despite taking extra practice at the juggs gun, he doesn’t yet have soft hands. Dropped passes haunted him last season, and he has had a few in camp already.
There is an axiom in the NFL that wide outs usually take two or three years before they really make an impact. Yes, there are obvious exceptions to that rule. This year will be Benjamin’s second season, and if we expect a big jump from Josh Gordon in his second year, why not from Benjamin as well?
Benjamin played in 14 games his rookie season, catching 18 passes for 298 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Pat Shurmur’s offense. Just as the Browns’ new vertical passing game should benefit quarterback Brandon Weeden, it should likewise allow the speedy Benjamin to stretch the field and also catch passes underneath where he can use that speed to find daylight.
Brandon Weeden praised Benjamin during the Browns’ off-season mini-camps, “Travis had at least as many catches if not more than anybody in camp,” Weeden said. “His route running is phenomenal, probably because he’s so fast. Guys have to honor him running by them. He’s been getting in and out of breaks so well. Whether it’s in-breaking routes or out-breaking routes, he’s really found a knack of getting separation and giving me a chance to complete some balls. He’s had a lot of catches this camp. He’s stuck out.”
Benjamin took the opportunity this winter to work out at his alma mater in Miami. He looks a little more defined, and certainly just as fast. Benjamin has all the confidence in the world in his ability, and hopes to get the chance to be a bigger part of the gameplan this season.
One other way that Benjamin will get his hands on the ball more in 2013 is through the return game. Travis said on Friday that the coaches have told him he’ll be returning punts, however coach Rob Chudzinski made reference to a competition yet for the job. It’s hard to envision anyone else beating Benjamin out for the job. He could also end up returning kick-offs. Any way to get Travis the ball in the open field is a good idea.
“Josh (Cribbs) was a great person, a great mentor to me,” said Benjamin. ” I can just go in this season and fill in the shoes where he left off. Those are some big shoes to fill.”
Benjamin’s improvement, along with the addition of Davone Bess could make things difficult for Jordan Norwood and Josh Cooper. Chances are good that one of the two won’t be kept. Norwood certainly has more experience than Cooper, but Cooper had a more productive year last year. There is always the chance that neither will be on the active roster after Gordon’s suspension is completed.
(Photo: Jon Cole for WFNY)
Gordon will serve a two game suspension of course, which means a starting spot is up for grabs the first two weeks.