Catching Cribbs Not Easy

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Four years ago, Ravens assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg was leading the Cleveland Browns specialists when a young undrafted quarterback named Joshua Cribbs wound up in training camp.

Rosburg saw something in this prospect that had nothing to do with throwing the football, however, and lobbied to keep a roster spot for Cribbs.

Now, as Cribbs and the Browns head to Baltimore this weekend, Rosburg must find a way to get his Ravens to contain one of the best special teamers in the NFL.

Cribbs, who made the Pro Bowl in 2007 for his special teams performance, is a unique type of player, one that returns kicks and makes tackles.

"I think what sets him apart is he's a football player," said Rosburg, who coached in Cleveland from 2001-06 before a stint with the Atlanta Falcons and then the Ravens. "You watch him play, and he gets free in so many different ways. He can run past guys, he can put his foot in the ground and make people miss, and then he can run over people. He gets to the open field, he can stiff-arm.

"He's got a lot of skills, and that's why he is what he is. I think everybody else has figured that out, so now they're playing him on offense."

Cribbs is among the top three in several return categories since he entered the league out of Kent State.

From 2005-09, he is tops in kickoff returns for touchdowns (five), and second in combined return touchdowns (seven) and kickoff return yards (5,707 for a 26.2-yard average).

Already this season, he's taken a punt for a touchdown, with a 67-yard return in Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings.

The reason he is able to post such prodigious numbers is a combination of size and speed. At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, he can easily break tackles in the open field, but Cribbs can also run away from people.

In addition, the Washington, D.C., native is tough. Cribbs has led the Browns in special teams tackles over the past three seasons, totaling 71 over that span.

"Cribbs has been a bad sight for the Ravens for more than just a few years," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, a nine-year special teams coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles. " He's probably the best return guy in the league in a lot of ways. He's a beast. He's really hard to tackle. We've got a lot of respect for him, and we've just got to tackle him. Bottom line."

Cribbs is also starting at wideout for Cleveland opposite Braylon Edwards, and the Ravens can expect him to line up for a few snaps out of the Wildcat formation.

Harbaugh thinks Cribbs' added offensive responsibilities mark a natural progression.

"He's really worked his way up," Harbaugh noted. "He's a guy that after the first mini-camp, way back when, they wanted to get rid of him. They brought him in from Kent State and they didn't think he could play receiver, [but] Jerry Rosburg and [special teams assistant] Marwan Maalouf were there in Cleveland at the time and fought to keep him. They decided to keep him, and the rest is history. Now he's starting at wide receiver.

"Good young players tend to show up on special teams early in their career. That's been a rule of thumb in this league for a long time."

But Cribbs is most dangerous when fielding a kickoff or a punt. Last year in a game in Cleveland between the Ravens and Browns, Cribbs torched Rosburg's coverage units for a 92-yard touchdown on a kickoff. That day, a 37-27 Ravens victory, Cribbs totaled 237 kickoff return yards and 41 yards on punts.

According to Rosburg, this year's coverage unit is not where the Ravens wants it to be.

Last Sunday, San Diego Chargers running back Darren Sproles broke off a 53-yard kickoff return in the second quarter that led to a field goal just before halftime.

"We have a ways to go, real frankly," Rosburg said. "We gave up a big return last week, unfortunately. It was simply a mistake on our part. You give that kind of a player an opportunity, and a good return turns into one that's across the 50-yard line, and that's what happened.

"It's going to be an ongoing process. We're going to work hard on it every week, because every week in this league you're going to face good players."

As such, the Ravens have focused on reining Cribbs in when he does have the football in his hands.

"There's not much you can do on kickoff coverage. You're going to kick the ball, and he's probably going to catch it," Rosburg explained. "So, you have to do a great job of containing him. He's going to attack the whole field, and we've made a big point in our coverage all week long of trying to make sure he doesn't have any open windows."

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