BEREA, Ohio – It was a little more than 30 minutes into practice, three or four different groups of players were going through different but standard drills and suddenly two trainers came running from the sideline.
Ryan Miller was down, and he wasn’t moving.
Within 30 seconds, the Cleveland Browns indoor practice facility was completely silent. Within five minutes, Browns staffers were telling the cameramen in the south side of the fieldhouse to stop filming and asking the gathered media to not report Miller’s name until his family could be notified.
It wasn’t hard to think the worst.
It was the worst nightmare of all 87 Browns players suited up for Saturday’s training camp practice, the team’s first in shoulder pads. It was a reminder that any snap could be somebody’s last.
Within seven minutes (by a very unofficial count), paramedics had loaded Miller onto a backboard, onto a cart and drove him to a waiting ambulance. Almost every Browns player stood nearby and tapped the cart on its way out. The Browns players then circled around head coach Rob Chuzdisnki and said a group prayer.
Two minutes later, football resumed.
Just like that. From eerily silent to pads cracking, whistles blowing, coaches yelling, guys competing for jobs.
The NFL is the ultimate next man up league. It waits for no one — and almost nothing.
By early Saturday evening, the Browns had spread the good news that Miller was awake, resting comfortably and preparing to be released from the hospital. The diagnosis for now is a concussion, which isn’t great news by any stretch but is better than what everyone watching around 4:40 p.m. on Saturday feared it might be.
Chudzinski said he didn’t see the play. Fellow offensive lineman Joe Thomas said he thought Miller took a shot to the head and was unconscious when the first help arrived, but he didn’t know for sure.
He just knew that once Miller was carted off, it was time to get back to work.
“It’s hard,” Thomas said. “There are more important things than football, and sometimes it’s hard to get back to focusing on football when things like that happen.”
But Thomas did. And his teammates did.
“You try not think (that could have been me),” Thomas said. “But you worry about him. Later on we heard he was doing better, that he was up and moving. That was a relief.”
Later in practice, Chudzinski called the team together to pass along what was relayed from the hospital. The players breathed a collective sigh of relief, then they got back to work again.
“We said a prayer, said we would keep Ryan in our thoughts and I said I would give them updates as we got them,” Chudzinski said. “We needed to get back to work at that point and focus back on practice.
“I thought they did a great job responding. It really says a lot about them, our coaches, our staff and our players to be able to do that. This team is a family and when something happens to a family member like that, it is tough. These guys did a great job of staying focused and getting a lot of work done that we needed to get done.”
The Philadelphia Eagles lost a top receiver (Jeremy Maclin) to a torn ACL on Saturday. The Baltimore Ravens might have lost their top tight end (Dennis Pitta) for the season to a dislocated hip. Seven years aggo, Cleveland native LeCharles Bentley played his last down of football ever when he injured his knee on the first day of training camp a few months after signing a $36 million deal with the Browns.
These players know what they’re signing up for. They know that probably 15-20 of the 90 players in camp won’t ever play football again past the next four weeks, that each of the 53 full-time jobs each of the NFL’s 32 teams offer are precious — and not one of them is truly guaranteed. They know they’re risking major injury every time they put on the pads, and they know that what happened to Miller on Saturday could happen to anybody.
The Browns were already down a backup offensive lineman due to injury, so chances are by the time the players had showered following Saturday’s practice, somebody in the front office had made a call to the first man on the team’s list of available free agents.
There’s another practice Sunday at 4 p.m. As we were reminded on Saturday, the show always goes on.