"There's no doubt," Thomas said. "I think he's too valuable to take off of kick return and punt return and special teams, but there's no doubt in my mind, especially after seeing the things that he did that he'd be an extremely successful running back in the NFL."
Lining up in the shotgun last Thursday night, Cribbs rushed for 87 yards as the Browns upset the Steelers 13-6 for just their second win this season. Cribbs, a former college QB, had a career-long 37-yard run to help set up Cleveland's only touchdown, and the dreadlocked dynamo broke off a crucial 14-yard run on a third-and-11 play during the fourth quarter as the Browns tried to eat up some time.
Cribbs, whose agent has held on-and-off negotiations on a contract extension with the Browns for months, doesn't mind multitasking. He has done it since high school, where he earned varsity letters in football, baseball, basketball and swimming. Anyway, playing running back isn't much of a stretch from his current duties.
"I feel like that's one of my abilities," Cribbs said. "My position is running back. I was a running back, back in the day. The Wildcat is me at running back. It's a straight handoff. It's not like we're trying to fool you with the quarterback being in the mix. I'm getting the ball, and I'm running it.
"Try to stop me."
At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, Cribbs is a heavy load for any would-be tackler. On several of his six career kickoff-return touchdowns, he has busted through early tackles before finding some open space and accelerating to the end zone. Usually, it takes more than one defender to bring him down.
Legs churning, arms pumping like pistons, Cribbs is a handful -- and then some -- for anyone who dares block his path.
Mangini said Monday that he would be willing to expand Cribbs' role at running back. With Jamal Lewis forced into retirement by a head injury, the Browns have given the majority of their carries to undersized Jerome Harrison and Chris Jennings, who began the season on the practice squad.
Mangini can see Cribbs becoming more than just an option in a gimmicky formation.
"As a traditional running back, it wouldn't be something I'd be opposed to," Mangini said. "I've liked the role he has now. But that's definitely something we could continue to explore and figure out more ways. There's some merit to getting in multiple receiver groups, being able to motion him back into the backfield and use him as a running back that way. We did a little of that with Brad Smith in New York. It's definitely something to look at."
Cribbs averaged 10.9 yards on eight carries against the Steelers' top-ranked rushing defense. Thomas said it was a sight to behold live -- and on tape.
"The guy's got some unbelievable vision, just watching the game film and seeing him going to his left and step toward the sideline," Thomas said. "He must have some unbelievable vision because he could see all the way back to his right, there was a lane the whole way back, like some of the greatest running backs in the NFL could. He hit a seam and took it for about 20-some yards.
"He kind of takes the approach that it's a punt return. But the vision he's got is amazing."
The Browns envision a long-term future with Cribbs, whom they signed as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2005. Cribbs, 26, has been asking the team to redo his contract since the summer. At various points, Cribbs threatened to sit out training camp or not play a regular-season game unless he received a new deal.
Instead, he has proven his worth.
Last week, Mangini reiterated that the Browns want to reward Cribbs. The coach was confident that a deal could be finalized with Cleveland's MVP: most versatile player.
That's all Cribbs has ever wanted.
"I try to speak on my contract by my play on the field," he said. "I try to let that talk for me so I can have something to back it up. In my position, leverage is everything. The only leverage I have is how well I can play and how well I've been playing. I have to keep playing good so I can have some type of argument when I do try to get a bigger contract or a different contract."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press