Monday, March 13, 2023

Browns special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone might enlist Josh Cribbs and Phil Dawson to help Cade York, returners


Updated: Mar. 10, 2023, 9:36 a.m.|

Published: Mar. 09, 2023, 4:59 p.m.

By Mary Kay Cabot,

CLEVELAND, Ohio - New Browns special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone played with former Browns All-Pro kicker Phil Dawson during Ventrone’s four years here as a special teamer, so he has the bar set high for Cade York at FirstEnergy Stadium.

But after scouting York, the Browns’ fourth-round pick out of LSU last season, when Ventrone was special teams coordinator of the Colts in 2022, he’s can’t wait to get his hands on him.

“It’s not too often you get to actually coach a guy you rank coming out of college at the highest at that position,” Ventrone said on a video conference Thursday. “Last year, grading all of the specialists, the kickers and the punters, I had Cade at the highest. I’m fortunate to be able to coach him this year. I think that he obviously can improve. We’re just going to coach him up, and we’re going to be as good as we can in the kicking phase.”

Ventrone might even enlist the services of Dawson, one of the best kickers in the history of the NFL, to help accelerate York’s progress. After York was drafted last April, he talked to Dawson for about 40 minutes about treacherous conditions at FirstEnergy Stadium and passionate Browns fans, but it might be time for another check-in after York went 10 for 16 at home, and 24 of 32 overall on field goals. He also had three blocked as a rookie.

“I actually touched base with Phil Dawson last year – we played at San Francisco – because he had kicked out there and put our kicker back then – it was (Michael) Badgley – in touch with him just to give him some insight on how the stadium was with the wind and things like that,” Ventrone said. “I think that would be a good resource for Cade honestly to reach out to Phil at some point, which he probably has already.”

Likewise, Ventrone might call on former Browns return ace Josh Cribbs to help inspire the Browns’ ball handlers. A first-team All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler, Cribbs has 11 returns for touchdowns, including eight on kickoffs and three on punts. The eight are tied for second in NFL history.

“Both of those guys would be great resources to bring into our room and talk at some point,” Ventrone said.

While he embraces the power of a big return or game-winning kick, Ventrone won’t swing for the fences.

“Just being able to impact the game is what we want to do,” he said. “First, we’re going to emphasize fundamentals and technique, and then those big plays will come. We’re not going to reach for them.”

Ventrone also understands the mentality of York, who’s such a perfectionist it can be hard to shake off a mistake. It’s one of the first areas he’ll emphasize with his young charge.

“The kicking position, I feel like the best guys, the guys that have the most successful and the best kickers – I have been around quite a bit Phil Dawson, (Adam) Vinatieri, (Stephen) Gostkowski – and the guys who I have coached in Indianapolis – Chase (McLaughlin) this past year-had a good year and (Michael) Badgley – those guys have done a good job of putting misses to bed and moving on and not being so caught up in missing a kick,” Ventrone said. “It’s how fast you can make the correction and then move on to the next kick. I have not had a chance to sit down and actually meet with Cade, but that will be one of the things that I am going to influence for him.”

If Ventrone can have the same impact on York that he had on McLaughlin, the former Browns kicker, in Indy last year, York will be kicking pretty. McLaughlin went 4 for 10 from 40-49 yards in 2021 with the Browns, and improved to 9 of 11 from that distance last season under Ventrone, who led top-10 units in Indy in each of the past three seasons.

“I feel like I have a good understanding of the techniques that are played within the scheme,” Ventrone said. “I’ve actually done it in my career. That’s all I did really. I feel like I have maybe a little bit more insight into the true intricacies of the techniques. I am big, big, big – we will drill it to death – on the fundamentals of the game: footwork, hat placement and playing with the base. I’m going to emphasize that ad nauseam to our players, and ultimately, that’s going to get us the best results. You can’t do anything unless you have good fundamentals and technique. That starts from Day 1.”

You can bet that when Bubba speaks, York will listen.

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