The Rabbit is ready to roll
CLEVELAND – He’s the self-proclaimed fastest man in the NFL and is capable of catching rabbits with his bare hands.
Sounds like a promo for an action-adventure movie when in reality it’s the profile of Browns receiver Travis Benjamin, who earned the nickname “Rabbit” for his unique childhood hobby and head-turning speed. The way the receiving corps is shaping up, Benjamin might be one of the few hopes for moving the ball through the air.
There aren’t enough underwhelming adjectives in the dictionary to describe the group of pass catchers quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer have been throwing to in training camp. Balls are on the ground as much as they are in a soccer match because of the poor catching skills exhibited by the receivers.
Benjamin has had his share of drops, but the potential he presents for making big plays trumps the inconsistency of his hands. The primary concern with him entering camp was how quickly he would recover from a torn ACL suffered last October against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Based on what we’ve seen to date, the knee isn’t a problem. Benjamin claims his knee is stronger than ever and his speed has actually increased.
“Most of the focus was on my lower body and getting it stronger knowing that I had an ACL injury,” Benjamin said. “Every day I got it stronger and working on my techniques, I built up that momentum I have.”
This week has highlighted how poorly the receivers have been performing. Including 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, the number of drops is close to double figures each day.
Coach Mike Pettine put a good spin on an obvious concern.
“It’s not a concern,” Pettine said. “You get into the heat of camp, you just have to push guys through it. They have to focus and make sure they’re looking balls in. I know the one day was the wet day where it was the first time we were trying to handle a heavier football.”
Organizationally there has to be concern about how the passing game will look if receiver Josh Gordon is suspended for a lengthy period of time. Miles Austin looked good early in camp but has been quiet of late. Andrew Hawkins was an offseason standout, but a lack of size (5 feet 7) is showing up in practices.
There’s a group of young, unproven receivers (Willie Snead, Charles Johnson and Taylor Gabriel) that has been inconsistent. Anthony Armstrong caught everything thrown his way in offseason practices that were open to the media, but he’s struggled in camp.
Benjamin opened 11-on-11 work Wednesday with a drop of a deep Brian Hoyer pass. He later caught a deep throw by Rex Grossman and pulled in several other throws in what was his best day of camp.
Benjamin has never been shy in claiming he’s the fastest player in the NFL. He’s anxious to see if his next speed rating in “Madden” football remains at the 2013 setting of 97.
That speed will be put to good use as a punt returner. Pettine is anxious to see how it plays out on offense if Gordon isn’t on the field.
“In Kyle’s (offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan) offense over the years, he’s had that guy that can kind of take the roof off it,” Pettine said. “I think that’s important.”
Benjamin has 23 career receptions in two seasons. He could reach that total in the 2014 season.
“If Josh goes down, someone has to be the next man up,” Benjamin said. “Whoever’s number they call, they have to be ready to step up.”