The Cleveland Browns have had receiver problems for as long as anyone can remember at this point. Anyone talked to Kevin Johnson lately? Former Browns receiver and returner André Davis is only 33. Maybe he still has something in the tank. Kidding aside, it felt like the Browns’ receivers were developing this year early on as we got looks at Mohamed Massaquoi, Greg Little, Travis Benjamin and Josh Gordon. Plus, we had the promise of pesky Jordan Norwood and Josh Cribbs making appearances in relief. …And then there were none. Or at least that’s the way it feels.
Mohamed Massaquoi is presumed to be out this weekend along with Travis Benjamin and Jordan Norwood. That leaves Greg Little, Josh Gordon, and Josh Cribbs. Add in the presumed call-up of Josh Cooper from the practice squad and the possibility of recently re-signed Rod Windsor and you can at least fill out the lineup, I guess. But, that’s a whole lot of guys without a whole lot of experience or meaningful recent playing time, so what should the Browns do? Here are some suggestions.
Tight ends – The Browns haven’t utilized their tight ends a ton in the passing game, but they get a bit of relief there as it appears Alex Smith will be back. He’s not the greatest receiving threat, but his presence might be able to free up fellow TE Jordan Cameron. Cameron is big and athletic for a tight end, and maybe the Browns could get creative in using him in the slot more as a receiver than a tight end this week.
Chris Ogbonnaya – Alright, I admit it. I overreacted to Chris Ogbonnaya’s fumble early on this season because he was active and Brandon Jackson wasn’t. Again, I was wrong. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Chris Ogbonnaya’s abilities as a third down back and despite the fact that he seemed a bit lost and / or lazy on the now-infamous third and one play, given some prep time, I think Ogbonnaya could be used split out at least a few times. He might not be great catching slants and typical receiver passes, but maybe. He’s tied for third on the team in receiving yards with Greg Little and he’s averaging 10.8 yards per reception. Again, this isn’t a long-term solution, but the Browns are kind of up against it.
Josh Cribbs – Coming off of a concussion, it appeared that the Browns were working to keep Cribbs limited last week to just return man duties. Cribbs may not be a legit receiver every down in this league, but he’s shown an ability to catch most everything thrown his way and also is by far the best on the team reacting when the initial reads fall apart. Cribbs is a professional when it comes to bailing out the QB. Despite the team’s desires, it might be time to give him more significant load.
Just let Josh Cooper compete. Sometimes the easiest solution is the most obvious one. Let the next wide receiver up on the depth chart try to do the job. Cooper is used to working with Brandon Weeden from their college days together, maybe he comes out and shocks the world in Brian Hartline-esque fashion.1 Sure, it’s unlikely, but so was Ryan Tannehill throwing for 431 yards against the Cards.
Run Trent Richardson 100 times. The Bengals are banged up at linebacker and when the Browns faced a situation where Colt McCoy was thrust into action a couple years ago as a rookie, they leaned hard on Peyton Hillis. In two victories against the Saints and Pats, Colt McCoy only threw 35 passes. Trent Richardson has been mostly successful running the ball this year. He also had his biggest game so far against the Bengals when he went for 109 yards on 19 carries. Tell me you’d be upset if the Browns went out there and gave Trent Richardson the ball 30 times and tried to win that way when the receivers were all banged up.
Obviously we’ll see what Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress choose to do, but the only thing I don’t want to see is this become some kind of excuse for the Browns. Dealing with adversity is what the NFL is all about. The Bengals game is winnable, at least by comparison to the rest of the schedule, and the Browns should never be more hungry and desperate than they are right now.
Hartline had 12 catches for 253 yards for the Dolphins against the Cards. [↩]