The fourth-year wide receiver tore his ACL in the season-opener of the 2012 season against the Jets on Sept. 9. Nelson had worked his way from being an undrafted free agent with the Bills into the opening day starting lineup.
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However, after catching two passes for 31 yards, he suffered the season-ending injury in the third quarter.
“It’s been a crazy ride,” Nelson said. “It’s been a crazy year for me. It’s been one of the most frustrating, disappointing, hardest years of my life. It’s just been one of those things where I have to continue to push. I’ve made it this far and I’m excited for the opportunity this week.
“It’s very aggravating and it’s just one of those things as an athlete stuff like that comes up.,” he said. “Adversity in your life, adversity on the field comes up and you just have to handle it the best way you know how. I’m trying to handle it the best way I know and continue to move and continue to move forward and work as hard as I can and show that I can be on the field.”
Nelson said he has had a tough time standing on the sidelines watching.
“Just the mere fact as a competitor you want to be out there when you see your teammates going through camp and the atmosphere and environment and everything that’s going on,” he said.
Nelson caught 61 passes for 658 yards, including five touchdowns in 2011, poising him for a big year in 2012. However, with the injury and in the final year of his contract, he found himself as an unrestricted free agent rehabbing from a torn ACL.
He signed with the Browns on April 8 and is looking to find a home with the club.
He started training camp on the Active/Physically Unable to Play (PUP) list, but was taken off of it on the second day of camp. However, he suffered a bone bruise to the same leg that was injured and has missed the past three weeks of training camp and all three preseason games.
“After being out from last year and missing the entire season and eagerly waiting to get back into the feel of things and then the second day of training camp I was out there again and I got pulled out again,” Nelson said. I think frustrating is putting it extremely lightly.”
With roster cuts looming, Nelson wants to get on the field this week against the Bears, and he was asked if he felt rushed back to play.
“Not at all,” he said. “I felt ready two weeks ago. I honestly did. I felt 100-percent ready to go last week and it was just a precautionary thing and (the coaches) decided not to go and I have to live with their decision. I don’t feel rushed one bit. I feel ready to go and I think it’s about time.”
He said he’s confident his knee is back completely.
“I feel extremely confident,” he said. “The trainers have done a great job of getting me ready to go. I feel like my knee is stronger than ever. I feel really ready to go and am 100-percent confident in it and just want to show what I can do.”
When many starters are resting for the final preseason game, Nelson is eagerly looking forward to playing this week.
“You can’t put words on it or put value on how it is,” he said. “You practice as hard as you can, but practice is still considered a controlled environment and they’re not hitting full speed. In practice, you’re going out there against the same guys you see every day and so it’s great to react in an NFL game and be able to adjust to the speed of the game and get that feel again and get back to the groove and feel smooth about it. It’s going to be a real valuable experience and a real valuable time for me.”
Nelson was asked if he feels ready to play.
“I think so,” he said. “The coaches have done a great job of keeping me prepared the entire time all through training camp. They’ve been keeping me plugged in and in tune with everything that is going on. It’s been my job to stay mentally focused with that even though I’ve not been out there getting physical reps. I try to do my job with the mental reps. The routes are similar to what I was used to running in Buffalo, just with different names. They’re just calling things different and for me, it’s just applying it and showing what I can do.”
Nelson has had little time to get down a chemistry with Brandon Weeden or any of the quarterbacks.
“We didn’t have much,” he said. “I think I practiced five times in the entire training camp. It’s just the way it goes. We’re going to continue to mold and grow together and hopefully, we’ll be able to develop something special because I’ve had that chemistry with my quarterbacks in the past and hopefully, we can continue to develop that.”
With Josh Gordon being suspended for the first couple of games, Nelson could be a much needed addition to the receiving corps.
“I think anytime you get a chance to compete you’re just looking for an opportunity,” he said. “That’s no different here. We have some great guys who are making plays. A group of young guys who are just hungry and wanting to make a name and to give this city something they can believe in. I just want to be a part of that and I’m excited for that.”
Nelson said he’s not where he wants to be, but it’s time for him to play.
“Not being able to practice for three weeks and not being able to play in the three preseason games, I’m obviously not where I want to be,” he said. “But obviously, I have to overcome that. The coaches have done a great job in speeding my process along the past week, but physically and mentally I’m ready to go and I’m extremely confident in what I can do and what my body will let me do.”
Nelson (6-5, 215) knows Browns fans haven’t seen him play, but he thinks he has a lot to add to the team.
“About 99 percent of the population (hasn’t seen me),” he said. “I’m just a big guy, a big target that tries to be reliable and dependable and being in the right place at the right time and always make plays. In my past, if you’ve followed my career you’ve known that I don’t drop passes and I get open. I’m not the fastest guy out there, but I understand defenses and I understand the scheme of the offense and I try to use that to my advantage.”
Nelson said he will have a lot of emotions when he runs out on the field in Chicago on Thursday night.
“I think I’ll be a little choked up running out there because I know how hard I’ve worked to get back here,” he said. “I know a lot of the things that were thrown at me in the past year and I’ve had to overcome to get back to this position to be able to play football in the National Football League again. I’ve been working so hard to be able to have this opportunity. There are a bunch of different emotions, but I’ll be extremely excited. I’ll be out there having fun and I’ll be out there doing whatever I can to help this team win.”
On the positive side, Nelson was asked if the Browns could use him as a secret weapon come opening day against the Dolphins, since there is little or no video on him thus far with the Browns.
“I’d like to think so,” he said. “I hope (the coaches) see that, as well and we’ll see how it goes.”
— The first team offense, which scored just three points on seven series, had its poorest performance in the preseason against the Colts. However, Weeden said he’s not concerned.
“Obviosly, there were a number of things, but it’s never as good as it seems or as bad as you think it is,” he said. “Looking back, we missed some opportunities, but it’s going to be like that every game.”
He said the Colts are a good team.
“You have to give credit where credit is due, (the Colts) played well,” he said. “We have to play better and fortunately this one doesn’t count. I don’t think there’s any reason to push the panic button like a lot of people want to, but we have to learn from it and we have to play better. We have to take from the things we didn’t do very well, correct them and get better for (the Bears) and moving forward against Miami.”
Weeden said it might be a blessing in disguise the offense had a poor outing at this point of the preseason.
“I think sometimes, you need that,” he said. “I think you need a little slap in the face to say ‘Listen, you’ve got to keep continuing to grind.’ It’s just human nature to get a little ahead of yourself but what better timing? It doesn’t count in the win/loss record of the regular season at the end of the day. All the mistakes we made are fixable… No, it’s just how do we deal with that adversity? How do we move on? It’ll be a big step for us.”
Weeden said all of the mistakes the offense made against the Colts can be corrected.
“We saw the mistakes and they’re all fixable, so this locker room is excited,” he said. “That one’s behind us and now we’re moving forward to Chicago and the (regular season) will be here before we know it.”
Weeden said he wouldn’t mind playing against the Bears on Thursday.
“I’m personally a creature of habit, so I like to not take a ton of time off,” Weeden said. “If (playing against the Bears) is what (head coach Rob Chudzinski) wants us to do, then I’m all for it.”
— Several players that Chudzinski said would return to practice did so on Monday, including TE Gary Bardnidge (shoulder), LB Jabaal Sheard (knee), WR Davone Bess (knee) and WR Jordan Norwood (hamstring).
Still working with the trainers were: DL Desmond Bryant (back), TE Jordan Cameron (groin), DB Jamoris Slaughter (groin), WR Naaman Roosevelt (hamstring), DB Chris Owens (foot). Cameron is day-to-day. LB Barkevious Mingo (lung) was on the side watching practice.
Those not on the field were: OL Jason Pinkston (ankle), OL Shawn Lauvao (ankle), RB Montario Hardesty (knee), RB Dion Lewis (leg) and OL Ryan Miller (head).
Bryant said he expects to be ready for the season opener.
“I want to be on the field, but I’ll be ready to go (for the season,” Bryant said before practice.
— The Browns reduced their roster to 83 players by releasing WR Jordan Norwood, LB Tommy Smith, WR Cordell Roberson, DB Vernon Kearney and DL Dave Kruger. Smith, Roberson, Kearney and Kruger were undrafted free agent rookies. Kruger is the younger brother of LB Paul Kruger.
Norwood was with the Browns since 2010 and had his best year in 2011 when he caught 23 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown in 14 games. In 2012, he played just two games and caught 13 passes for 137 yards, including nine receptions for 81 yards against the Giants before being placed on injured reserve the following week.
The roster must be trimmed to 75 by Tuesday at 4 p.m.