Oakland reminds Josh Cribbs of Cleveland, and before you take that as an insult, hear Cribbs out.
"I feel like the Raiders are a traditional, winning team like Cleveland is -- they won a lot in the past," Cribbs said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday. "They have a history of it. It’s a blue-collar, underdog city and it would be so great to come here and win games and fight for an opportunity to have a chance to win games. I feel like the Raiders are moving in the right direction and I would love to be a part of it when they turn things around."
Still not convinced?
"This is a hardcore team," he added. "I knew of the tradition with it and that’s what I’m going to keep harping on…I knew of the tradition of this organization and all they stand for and it’s one thing that struck me."
Cribbs, who has returned an NFL record eight kickoffs for touchdowns, was also looking forward to playing for the Raiders' new special teams coach in Bobby April, who was hired in January.
"I really love the opportunity…to help him put his niche on things," Cribbs said. "He’s a great special teams coach. I just want to come here and succeed, and I feel like I have the best opportunity to do that here in Oakland. Playing against Oakland, I’m familiar with a lot of the guys because I played against them. I had the opportunity to join some former teammates off of my team and keep the ball rolling."
Questions about the health of his knee, which underwent offseason surgery to repair a torn meniscus, are not really relevant at this time, he said. Even with New York Jets general manager John Idzik saying Cribbs' knee wasn't ready after his visit there last week.
"We’re not lining up to play football (yet)," Cribbs said. "If we were lining up to play football in June then it would be a hot topic. I will be ready to play football when it’s time to play football and I think that is the important thing. I don’t know why the Jets GM would come out and say that other than use it as a negotiation tactic.
"I’m an Oakland Raider now, I’m a part of Raider Nation, and that’s another reason why I chose Oakland. Rich fan base, similar to Cleveland. They are a diehard fan base. They’re all about their team, win or lose. They hold their team and players to a high standard and that’s what I won’t have to miss coming to Oakland because it’s the same situation, play hard for the fans and they’ll reward you."
Cribbs, of course, hopes to reward the Raiders on special teams. But the two-time Pro Bowler also sees an opportunity to contribute as a receiver. The main thing, though, is helping the Raiders' kick-return game, which was dreadful last year.
It should be noted, too, that while Cribbs last returned a kickoff for a score in 2009, the NFL changed the rule and moved kickers up five yards to the 35-yard line to reduce the number of returns in 2011.
"I was against the rule but it doesn’t matter because everyone has to deal with it," Cribbs said. "But at the same time, I came in under a different rule. It wasn’t like I was a rookie when the rule changed and I had the opportunity to be able to adjust and move forward in that matter. I had to change my style of play as well. I still kind of disagree with it but I got to take it moving and I just got to move on with my business in that matter. I still haven’t found the significance of the rule change other than them saying it’s supposedly supposed to stop injury.
Interestingly enough, Cribbs' return average went from 27.5 in 2009 to 20.4 in 2010 to 25.0 in 2011 to 27.4 in 2012. His career average is 25.9. Jacoby Ford, meanwhile,
has a career return average of 25.3 and has returned a franchise record four kicks for TDs. Ford is returning from Lisfranc surgery and has missed as many games to injury in his career -- 24 -- as he's played in -- 24 -- and has yet to play in a regular season game for the Raiders' new regime.
"But at the same time, I understand that the NFL is trying to make the league safer," Cribbs said. "I commend those efforts, but football is football. Its 100 percent injury. It’s not if you’re going to get injured, it’s when. We know this sport is what we signed up for, so I just try to play it as I see it….so I hope in the near future, there’s not so many rule changes to come. It really kind of dilutes the game of football and it’s becoming a different sport than what we all grew up on."