When linebacker Chris Gocong was writhing in agony on the practice field, the Cleveland Browns were concerned.
Hours later, the Browns found out it was worse than they thought. Gocong is likely out for the season after injuring his right Achilles tendon.
"It’s an Achilles for Gocong, so he’ll have surgery," coach Pat Shurmur said before a Saturday afternoon walk-through. "There’s no point in trying to conceal anything. It’s an Achilles."
A Browns spokesman said Gocong could have the surgery as soon as Monday and that surgeons will determine the severity of the injury at that time.
Cleveland already was faced with not having linebacker Scott Fujita for the first three games because of his league suspension for being part of the bounty scandal in New Orleans before joining the Browns two years ago. Now they will open the year without at least three starters on defense. Lineman Phil Taylor will be sidelined until midseason as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle.
Everyone knew Gocong was hurt halfway through the morning practice, but the Browns held out hope that one of their team leaders would not be gone for long.
"It looked serious. It always does when a guy doesn’t get up," linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. "You hate to see that. He plays a major role."
Gocong clearly was in pain after crumpling to the ground during morning practice. Covered in sweat, he grimaced as trainers removed his right shoe and gingerly checked his lower leg. As he was lifted onto a cart, Gocong’s leg hung straight downward.
Shurmur pulled the squad away and resumed drills. He later explained that injuries happen and that the entire team must move on despite whatever emotions they may feel for a fallen teammate.
"Injuries are an unintended consequence of this game," Shurmur said. "As safe as you try to be, it sometimes happens and it drives the coach nuts.
"But for guys who don’t play a lot, you learn you are one play from being in there full time."
One day after new owner Jimmy Haslam III came to camp and provided a positive lift to a franchise that has been stuck in the losing doldrums, the Browns were dealt yet another damaging blow.
"It affects us all, puts a damper on practice," Jackson said. "Chris can play every linebacker spot and play them well. If he’s not there, it’s a major hit. All the other guys have to step up and do more."
Gocong has been durable, starting all 32 games for Cleveland since being acquired from Philadelphia in a trade in April 2010. An Eagles third-round pick in 2006, he missed that entire season with a stinger and played 79 of 80 games since.
Signed to a three-year contract extension in September, the 28-year-old Gocong was a steadying influence on a defense needing consistency. He made 10 starts on the weak side, six on the strong, and got a career-best 3 sacks. He also recovered a fumble and made 67 tackles — including two on a goal-line stand against Pittsburgh in December.
Fujita went over to Gocong and offered encouragement as his friend was being driven away.
"It was a freakish thing, no explanation for how or why," Fujita said of the way Gocong leaped to make a play and came down. "That play has happened a thousand times before."
Gocong got hurt trying to prevent Jordan Cameron from making a leaping catch of a Brandon Weeden pass in the end zone. Fans and players cheered then fell silent when Gocong clutched his leg.
Fujita remains hopeful of overturning his suspension or at least cutting it down with an appeal that will be heard Friday.
"The filing was submitted yesterday and I was up last night reading legal stuff," Fujita said, adding that he will stay focused on football and let attorneys attend to details. He won’t even go to the hearing and does not expect to be asked to speak.
"I’ll be with this team in Detroit," he said. "I don’t know if there is even going to be testimony. They want me to talk, I’ll do that."
The Browns open their exhibition season that night against the Lions. Reserves Kaluka Maiava and Craig Robertson along with rookies James-Michael Johnson and L.J. Fort are sure to get more work at linebacker.
Johnson, a fourth-round pick from Nevada, said he is ready.
"Football throws stuff at you that you don’t expect," he said. "You’ve got to stay ready to do whatever."
Notes: Shurmur termed it a good practice despite Gocong’s injury and an embarrassing miscue. "There were a lot of coachable moments," he said. "You saw a receiver (rookie Josh Gordon) catch a ball and stop running when he could have had a touchdown. You’ll never see that again." … Second-year DB Buster Skrine got the worst of it, but was cheered for the effort when he challenged 315-pound OL Oniel Cousins on a blitz — and was driven to the ground as if hit by an avalanche. Fans cringed for the 5-9, 185-pound Skrine, who bounced up like nothing happened. … The Browns have Sunday off and return to drills Monday afternoon.