Friday, October 05, 2007

Phil Dawson is a Remarkable Talent

Jeff Schudel

October 3, 2007

Both kicker and top returner are undrafted players who have been productive for Browns

Phil Dawson feels like one of the luckiest kickers in the NFL. He doesn't have to kick off to Josh Cribbs on Sunday.

Kicking off to Cribbs on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday in practice is challenge enough for Dawson, but when it comes to kicking off when it counts, Dawson is content to watch the kicker on the opposite side of the field squirm.

"I love Josh Cribbs," Dawson said Monday in the Browns' locker room. "I can relate. He's an undrafted kid who came into the league and had to earn his way. He continues to make play after play.

"He's the kind of player I think fans of the Browns can really identify with and appreciate."

Dawson is 6-for-7 on field-goal tries heading into Sunday's game at New England. He would be a perfect 7-for-7 and the Browns would be 3-1 if Nat Dorsey hadn't missed a block on kick protection in Oakland on Sept. 23, a mistake that allowed the Raiders' Tom Kelly to block Dawson's 40-yard field-goal attempt on the final play.

Even more remarkable than being 6 of 7 is Dawson is 5-for-5 at Cleveland Browns Stadium, a place that has been treacherous for kickers even in good weather because they often have trouble setting their plant foot. The Ravens' Matt Stover, normally one of the most accurate kickers in the league, missed wide right from 46 and 41 yards Sunday.

There is even more to Dawson's success. He has had three holders in four games. If it isn't an NFL record, it has to be close. Paul Ernster held for the opener, a game in which Dawson's only kick was a PAT in a 34-7 loss. Dave Zastudil held for him against the Bengals. Scott Player was his holder the last two weeks.

The reason Dawson has played musical holders is Zastudil, his normal holder, has been battling a strained oblique.

"I jinxed myself in training camp," Dawson said. "I made the comment this was the first year in five years I had the same snapper and holder. You'd be surprised. It's not that they hold differently, but it looks completely different.

"Some guys catch the ball into their bodies. Some guys reach out and catch it. Some guys place it down differently. When you consider it only takes 1.3 seconds from snap to kick, there's not a lot of time for something to go wrong."

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