Travis Benjamin Sees Increasing Role

The Rabbit, the fastest player on the Browns’ roster before a knee injury ended his 2013 season, is back and hopping faster than ever.
The Rabbit is slender Travis Benjamin, who earned his nickname as a legendary rabbit catcher in his hometown of Bell Grade, Fla. More on that in a few paragraphs.
Benjamin is the kick returner, punt returner and deep-throw threat on a Browns team that sorely is in need of a reliable wide receiver. Josh Gordon is that player now, but he is likely to be suspended for all or part of 2014 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Any day now, or maybe that should be any month, the league is expected to rule on Gordon’s appeal, which concluded Aug. 4.
Benjamin’s season was smoothly sailing along last year until a gruesome knee injury in Kansas City ended his season.
Brian Hoyer has received more attention for his torn ACL because he’s a quarterback, but Benjamin was injured returning a punt on Oct, 27, 24 days after Hoyer went down, and had to rehab just as relentlessly to be ready for the start of camp on July 25.
“I always feel like I can stretch the field, catch sharp balls, long balls.” Benjamin said on Aug. 13 after a 50-yard catch from Johnny Manziel on the right sideline highlighted a very productive practice. “I actually feel much faster than I was before. Mostly I focused on my lower body and getting it stronger knowing that I had an ACL surgery. I always feel like I’m the fastest guy in the NFL. I’m just waiting for the challenge.”
Speed and quickness were priceless traits for a young boy growing up in Belle Grade, where rabbit catching is a rite of passage. Benjamin said his older brother would tell tales of the sport when Travis was too young to chase Peter Cottontail.
Benjamin’s time of glory came when he reached middle school. The game was on when the sugarcane was burned and the rabbits started running. “The biggest trick is, as a group, surround the bushes and when the rabbits hear you coming they just rush out and go any way,” Benjamin said. “Knowing you have a circle, you’re able to catch it.
“Sometimes you dive. Sometimes you have a stick or something in your hand so when you see it you just have to jump on it. One day I caught 20, 25 rabbits. I was telling (teammates and coaches) the story and they didn’t believe it, so they’ve called me “Rabbit” ever since. Now I go to the grocery store and everybody calls me Rabbit.”
Rabbit is a delicacy in Bell Grade.
“Kind of tender, almost like pork chops,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin, a 2012 fourth-round draft pick from Miami, has six career kick returns for 222 yards — a 37.0 average. He has 25 career punt returns for a 16.7 average. He had an 86-yard kick return (no touchdown) plus a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown last year. He returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown in 2012.
Benjamin caught 18 passes as a rookie. One was a 69-yard catch and run for a touchdown. He caught five passes last year and one of those covered 39 yards. He had one carry for 45 yards in 2013 and six in 2012. One of those went for 35 yards.
The Rabbit doesn’t get his hands on the ball often. But when he does, good things happen for the Browns.
“It’s hard to have a roster spot just for a guy and all he does is return,” Coach Mike Pettine said. “He has to be able to function on one side of the ball or the other. In Kyle’s offense over the years, he’s had that guy that can kind of take the roof off. I think that’s important.”
Benjamin is ready to tear that roof off, even if he’ll find no rabbits under it.

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