BEREA — Joshua Cribbs missed everything about playing in the NFL. The action, the locker room, the pads, even being hit.
He’s found a way to get his football fix without risking bodily harm. Cribbs, the three-time Pro Bowl special teamer, is working as a coaching intern under Browns special teams coordinator Amos Jones.
“It was very tough for me. This is filling that void, almost even more than playing,” Cribbs said Thursday at the conclusion of minicamp. “Being able to see your knowledge come out of other players is awesome.”
He’s embraced the new role, the long hours and sees a future in coaching. He hopes and expects to remain with the team through the season.
“I absolutely love it,” he said. “My coach has to send me home and my wife sends me back here. I mean, I love it.
“I’m just excited to be back here on the field. I feel like I’m playing out there with the guys, so it’s been an exciting experience and I’m learning so much and I’m able to pass a lot of knowledge down.”
Cribbs played quarterback at Kent State, signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent and became one of the league’s best on special teams as a returner and cover guy. He played in Cleveland from 2005-12, then spent two more years in the league. He remained in Northeast Ohio and did some television work but wasn’t fulfilled.
He approached his new calling like his he did his kickoff returns and punt coverage — head on and at full speed.
“I hit the ground running, because I can’t approach coaching like a rookie. That’s how you get fired,” he said. “I’m learning to command out there on the field. I majored in public speaking and communication at Kent and that’s indoors, so I’m learning to use my outside voice and command the team, command the unit.
“I’m not approaching it like a rookie because the players will see that. They’ll say, ‘He don’t know what he’s talking about. He just played.’ It’s not what I know. It’s how I can transfer what I know to the players.”
He’s off to a strong start. He’s active on the field during practice — he wears cleats — and invented a drill to be used when training camp starts.
“He’s a legend. The biggest thing is just his enthusiasm,” Jones said. “He invented a drill for us this spring and I don’t know if I was more excited about it or he was, because we call it the ‘Cribbs drill.’ It was a tackling drill, it wasn’t even a return drill.
“He’s done a great job, he’s come to work every day with some enthusiasm, just like he did when he played, and just really excited about his growth and progress. I think he’s got a great future, I really do. And he wants to do it and his wife probably wanted to get him out of the house anyway.”
Cribbs turned 35 last week and said his knees wouldn’t allow a comeback as a player. In his playing days, he never pictured a second career on the sideline wearing headphones.
“I didn’t think about coaching because playing consumed my life and being the best player consumed my life,” he said. “The next contract consumed my life. You know, all those things consumed me. Winning.”
Cribbs went to Baldwin Wallace to get a master’s in business administration and decide if he wanted to try coaching or scouting. He initially leaned toward scouting because of the cutthroat nature of coaching, then realized he thrives in that environment.
“I forgot that it was the fear of being cut that made me such a great athlete, so I know I have to use that same mentality as coach,” he said. “If I’m giving my all to this coaching and giving my all to all of the coaches who are above me — which all of them are — then it’s a good opportunity for me to still be around.”
Sam Shade, the assistant special teams coach, played in the league from 1995-2002 as a defensive back and cover guy on special teams. He’s learned about returning from Cribbs.
“He’s passionate about the Browns,” Shade said. “He loves the Browns, wants the Browns to do well, but he also brings a lot of knowledge to the room.”
Cribbs never went to the playoffs with the Browns but experienced a 10-win season in 2007. The 1-15 and 0-16 seasons the last two years stung as he watched from afar.
“I get offended being out there and people talk bad about us, so it’s dear to my heart,” he said.