Heading into training camp with a newly converted wide receiver Terrelle Pryor on the roster, it seemed highly likely that the likes of Travis Benjamin, Darius Jennings and other “shorter” receivers on the roster could be on the outside looking in to make the 53-man squad. Instead, after a few weeks of training camp and one preseason game they are two of the hottest names thus far.
Benjamin, recently referred to as the most improved player on the roster by starting safety Donte Whitner, has done nothing but impress the coaching staff all offseason. His work was on full display against the Washington Redskins, as the former Miami Hurricane looked to have vastly improved his previously scrutinized route-running skills. He seemed to be in sync with new starting quarterback Josh McCown as well, catching two passes for 10 yards and a touchdown in their only drive together.
If the reports coming out of camp are accurate in regard to his improved route-running skills, the 25-year old receiver could have a leg up on Pryor and the other fringe of the roster receivers. Not only does he have four years of previous experience on the team, but the 5’10” and 180-pound speedster has time served under general manager Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine to his advantage as well. Though they have been firm about playing the best man available, seeing his growth during their tenure in Cleveland will obviously allow them to put a check next to his name when they are sorting out which receivers to keep in September.
It may not only be Farmer or Pettine campaigning for him when it comes time, as McCown seems to have taken a liking to him as well.
In an article written by Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal, McCown was quoted stating, “Trav, he’s a pro. He just comes out and works hard, doesn’t say a whole lot. He’s got a great skill set as far as his speed. You get a guy with speed like that a lot of time, but when the lights come on, either they play timid or they don’t play at the high speed.” McCown continued, “Trav explodes off the ball every time we snap it, and because of that, he’s using his speed to his advantage. It’s causing space for him to get open, and that’s why he’s able to get balls. He’s really doing a good job. Everybody’s working really hard, but he’s really helped us set a tone for how we’re going to come off the football and work, and it’s been cool to watch.”
With the likes of Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel considered virtual locks for the roster, players like Benjamin are battling it out to fill the fifth and potentially sixth wide receiver spots. If Benjamin has impressed as much as it sounds, it could come down to Pryor and the rest of the receivers for lucky No. 6. And while all eyes have been on Pryor, rookie Vince Mayle and Josh Lenz—do not be surprised if the guy to snag the final receiver spot is the undrafted rookie, Jennings.
In his first preseason game with the Browns, Jennings turned heads right away on special teams—recording two kick returns for 75 yards total. One of those kick returns was an electric 54-yard return which had many fans thinking he could take it to the house to start the second half. His ability to give the offense good field position was reminiscent of the days of Josh Cribbs, another undrafted free agent receiver.
However, Jennings was not satisfied leaving only an imprint on the return game. He snagged two passes for 28 yards (four targets total) on the night, making an impressive catch on a poorly thrown ball by Connor Shaw on 3rd and 13 for a 22-yard gain. The adjustment he made to the poor throw in-air was a veteran move, and it not only moved the chains but was a big play for the offense.
Undrafted out of Virginia, Jennings put up an impressive yard-per catch average of 19.3 during his senior season. In four years, he racked up 133 catches for 1,667 yards and 11 touchdowns—adding in another 183 yards and one touchdown on the ground. He was also quite the threat in the return game, returning 81 kicks for 1,839 yards.
With Pryor rumored to be coming back (though he missed Tuesday night’s practice) for their game against Buffalo this week, it will be all eyes on the physical specimen to see if he can pick up where he left off in camp. With a rare combination of size and speed, Pryor will certainly be able to stand out among a smaller group of receivers who all possess similar traits according to some.
But while we all get wrapped up in the Pryor conversion to receiver, do not take your eyes off Benjamin and Jennings. Both have proven to be solid options to round out the Browns roster (yes, Benjamin has changed this writer’s view), and are going to make life difficult on Farmer and Pettine when it comes time to make final cuts if they keep playing the way they have been.