Cribbs relishes dual role on special teams

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 30, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jul. 31, 2013 - 8:36 pm

NAPA – There's no arguing that Josh Cribbs will go down as one of the top special-teams players in NFL history. He already shares the record for career kickoff-return touchdowns and has done pretty well as a punt returner over the years.

One of the Raiders' most significant offseason acquisitions, Cribbs can still get down the field with the best of them. He was fourth in the league in kickoff return average in 2012 and was sixth in punt returns.

Cribbs might also be one of the only return men in the league who doubles on coverage units – and that's something Raiders coach Dennis Allen fully intends to exploit.

That's perfectly fine with Cribbs, 30, who relishes making tackles on special teams as much as he does getting into the end zone.

It's a combination the Raiders couldn't pass up when they inked Cribbs to a one-year contract worth slightly more than the veteran minimum.

"He's excellent in all phases of special teams, not just as a return man," Allen said. "I think that's what makes a guy like him so valuable."

Cribbs has proven his value ever since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2005.

He has scored on at least one return in all but two of his eight seasons and has 11 touchdowns on returns for his career. Eight have come on kickoffs, tying Seattle's Leon Washington for most in NFL history.

Cribbs has another nine touchdowns on offense, including seven as a wide receiver.

The Raiders just want him to focus on special teams. Anything beyond that would be a plus.

Oakland signed Cribbs even though he had offseason surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee. Cribbs missed the Raiders' minicamp in June as a result.

The injury led some teams to shy away from pursuing the return specialist. New York Jets general manager John Idzik, whose team brought Cribbs in for a physical in the offseason, told reporters he didn't think Cribbs' knee had fully healed yet. Those comments irked Cribbs, who noted the Raiders play New York on the road on Dec. 8.

"I'm going to keep (my thoughts) to myself," Cribbs said. "It's all fun and games, but when the lights are put on, I'll remember what he said."

Cribbs gets most animated, however, when talking about tackling. Not getting tackled, but laying a hit on an opposing player.

"You can't have one without the other," Cribbs said. "These guys come down and hit me with all their might, I want to return the favor. That's a passion of mine. That's what helped me make the team in Cleveland. The more you can do adds value to the team."

The Raiders have been giving him plenty of opportunities to do just that.

With Jacoby Ford unable to practice due to an undisclosed injury suffered Sunday, Cribbs has been the primary returner on both kickoffs and punts.

The Raiders' original idea was to pair the two, but Ford – who holds the franchise record for single-season and career kickoff-return touchdowns – missed all of 2012 with a foot injury and is on the shelf again.

There are also question marks in the Raiders' receiving corps, which could mean more work on offense for Cribbs.

For now, though, the team wants him focused solely on special teams.

"Coming in (general manager Reggie McKenzie) and even coach Allen told me whatever I can do on offense is a bonus," said Cribbs, who has 107 career receptions. "This was the best fit for me, how they want to use me."

That includes on the coverage units.

While some teams cringe at the thought of having their kick returners racing downfield to make a tackle, the Raiders expect it.

"Any time you play the game of football, there's a risk, but you can't play scared," Allen said. "He's just as valuable to us on our coverage units as he is on our return units. We have to let him go out there and play."

Cribbs' numbers already put him in an elite class of special-teams players. Going both ways might put him in a class of his own.

"I don't come across too many people (that do it)," Cribbs said. "All I know is, the more you can do for your team, that's how valuable you are. It's returning the favor. Returns take more focus. On coverage, you're just like, 'Let's go.' I love that aspect of the game a little bit more."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Michael Wagaman



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