Thursday, July 17, 2008

Jurevicius to Miss 6 Weeks, Who Will Fill In?

First, it was offensive lineman Ryan Tucker and his broken hip that will keep him out part of training camp. Next, cornerback Daven Holly went down for the season in OTAs after blowing out his knee. As it does in life, things often happen in threes and it did for the Cleveland Browns on the injury front.

Browns General Manager Phil Savage said he expects wide receiver Joe Jurevicius to start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, making him ineligible for the first six weeks of the season. Jurevicius contracted a staph infection seven months ago after a routine knee surgery and has had at least three surgeries since that time to attempt to remove the infection.

This is also the third Browns play to be hit with multiple surgeries after a staph infection after a previous surgery. The LeCharles Bentley story is well chronicled as is Kellen Winslow’s. I don’t know what’s going on up there at the Cleveland Clinic but it is disconcerting. Because of that, my fear is that Jurevicius may not be available at all this season, but only time will tell.

Jurevicius has been one of the more under-rated possession receivers in the NFL throughout his career. He ranked third in the entire NFL with 29 catches on third down in 2007. Twenty-two of those third-down passes were converted to first downs, fifth in the NFL. More importantly he is Derek Anderson’s safety valve, something Browns fans would love to see DA use more in 2008 than he did at the end of 2007.

So the question is who can pick up the slack for Jurevicius in his absence? The logical candidates are special teams whiz Josh Cribbs, the disappointing Travis Wilson or crafty veteran free agent Kevin Kasper.

But don’t sleep on late round draft choice Paul Hubbard or a couple of Browns’ practice squaders from 2007, Steve Sanders and Syndric Steptoe. All three have an opportunity for more reps in camp now which means more chances to impress.

The other option is a large amount of two tight end sets. Kellen Winslow lines up in the slot a lot to begin with because of past injuries. Despite begin utilized more as a blocker in 2007, Steve Heiden has shown he is capable of being a pass catcher when Winslow missed most of 2004 and all of 2005. Draft choice Paul Rucker may also be an option as he played in the slot a lot in college at Missouri and has the size and height that the coaching staff loves.

Regardless of who steps up, I do hope Jurevicius is able to come back after Week 6. His veteran leadership and intangibles are sorely needed on this young team looking to make a giant leap in 2008. In the mean time, someone needs to step it up. The only question is who will be the man to do it?

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