Looking for a playmaker on the Browns' offense? Don't count out the Rabbit

Rabbit is back: Benjamin was given the nickname “Rabbit” because as a kid he chased – and caught -- wild rabbits escaping from the burning cane fields of south Florida. He is the fastest player on the team and if you think not, just ask him. “There’s no doubt,” he said.

But it’s not only his speed that has been impressive. In his fourth season, he is doing things that good receivers do – playing bigger than his 5-10 and 175 pounds, fighting off cornerbacks for 50-50 balls, and in the preseason game against Washington, drawing interference on a debatable uncatchable ball, and then following McCown’s improvisation and drifting to an open spot at the back of the end zone for a short touchdown.

The extra year removed from knee surgery has restored Benjamin’s confidence at a time he is naturally reaching a new phase of his receiving career. The Browns are hoping – no, praying – that the confidence extends to his role as lead punt returner.

Benjamin’s troubles at punt return last year were marked by indecision on fair catches, fumbles, and a career-low 8.5 yards per return. It was particularly exasperating because he actually had his best year at receiver, if in a limited role -- 18 receptions for 314 yards and a team-high three receiving touchdowns.
I felt that Benjamin lost confidence as a punt returner because his knee injury occurred while returning a punt in a game in Kansas City in the 2013 season. He disagreed.

“There was no confidence loss at all,” he said. “I guess there was a ball or two I could have looked in and caught, but other than that, I didn’t have the most reps at punt return because we had Jimmy Leonhard and (Jordan) Poyer was taking most of the reps. But the reps I did get in, I could have taken advantage of more.”

Benjamin said his rehab on the knee in the 2014 offseason may have caused him to neglect his punt return role a little.

In any case, special teams coordinator Chris Tabor has predicted a big comeback for Benjamin as a punt returner. And on Monday, coach Mike Pettine stated without equivocation that Benjamin is “the lead guy” at punt returner.

The renewed confidence shown by the coaches helps a lot, Benjamin said. “When you have a bond like that, every time Tabe has a punt return he calls my name and I’m gonna put my best foot forward.”

Contract year: So, Benjamin is healthy, more confident, more consistent, is developing into a more well-rounded receiver and … he is in his contract year.

He can be a free agent after this season, and if you don’t think that motivates professional football players then you haven’t been paying attention.

“It’s a big, big year for me,” Benjamin said. “Going into my final year of my contract with the Browns, just willing to go out here and put everything on the line for the Browns as much as I can.

“I’m playing for now. I don’t look far into the future. I’m just playing for the Browns right now, and hopefully, if things work out, I’ll be here for another couple more years, God willing.

“It’s going to be a great year for me.”

The Browns need it to happen.

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