BEREA, Ohio — Already one of the NFL's elite return specialists, Joshua Cribbs is developing into a bona fide wide receiver for the Browns.
He's got the size, the strength, the speed.
All he's lacking is the selfishness.
Struggling through two games, Cleveland's offense could use a spark, and the multitalented Cribbs, a former quarterback at Kent State, seems to be the logical choice to provide one. Trouble is, he needs the ball in his hands to make things happen, and for whatever reason, the Browns hardly gave it to him Sunday in a 16-14 loss to Kansas City.
Cribbs refuses to beg Cleveland's coaches for the ball.
“I can only bribe the quarterbacks,” he joked.
However, the Browns' offensive ineptitude is no laughing matter.
With backup quarterback Seneca Wallace pressed into starting because of Jake Delhomme's ankle injury, Cleveland gained just 55 yards in the second half against the Chiefs, whose defense finished 30th overall in the league last season. The Browns managed a mere three first downs after halftime, and one of those came courtesy of a penalty.
On Monday, coach Eric Mangini lamented not using the wildcat formation with Cribbs at QB and Wallace split wide. The Browns ran it just once, with Cribbs picking up a yard on a run late in the second quarter.
Cribbs was pleased to hear Mangini's admission.
“I agree and whenever they call my number, I'll be ready,” Cribbs said. “At the same time, if we win that game, nobody is talking about Josh is not getting the football enough.”
Cribbs had three catches for 74 yards, 65 coming on a TD pass from Wallace, who may have to start again in Baltimore on Sunday for Delhomme. The Chiefs also neutralized Cribbs on returns by kicking the ball high and short to Cleveland's up backs. The strategy resulted in Cribbs getting one kickoff return for 19 yards and one punt return for 5.
There wasn't much Cribbs could do. He certainly wasn't going to compound things by complaining.
“As a leader, I'm not the guy who begs for the football,” he said. “I will let them coach. I'm sure they realize, 'Hey, we got to get him the ball more.' It will happen. There are certain situations in the game where it's not the right time for my number to be called and that's just the way it is.”
Cleveland may need to get creative against the Ravens' fearsome defense, the only unit not to give up a touchdown this season. Complicating matters for the Browns is that running back Jerome Harrison missed practice with a thigh injury, and wide receiver Brian Robiskie injured his hamstring during practice Wednesday.
Cribbs can't do it all, except that he may have to.
He does give the Browns multiple options. They can put him at wide receiver, quarterback, running back, in the slot, or on the edge. The wildcat can be effective, but Wallace cautioned that it may not work against a defense has aggressive as Baltimore's.
“You have to pick and choose when you want to use it and utilize it,” he said. “Cribbs is a great athlete, so he's going to make it happen whatever defense we're against.”
Baltimore, though, is a different beast.
The Ravens have forced their opponents to settle for field goals on all six trips inside the red zone. Cleveland has yet to score in the second half this season.
Cribbs believes the Browns have enough quality playmakers, and that the Browns only need to avoid the costly penalties and turnovers that sabotaged scoring drives last week — and in the opener at Tampa Bay.
“I think we're OK,” Cribbs said. “If we just limit our mistakes and make just one or two mistakes in each game, we'd be 2-0. We turned the ball over. We gave them 10 points on offense. For two weeks in a row, we've given their team 10 points. If we don't do that, we're 2-0 and no one is saying Cribbs needs the ball. We need to sharpen it up on offense and do our jobs.”
Mangini has warned that those who make mistakes will pay with playing time.
“That's a good message,” Cribbs said. “Your livelihood is at stake. We talk about a recession. Guys will not have a job. They will be out of here. Coach is serious about that. He has shown in the past that he will activate practice squad guys, guys who are going to be hungry.”
Right now, Cribbs is starving for the football. But he can't feed it to himself.