BEREA – The good news came quickly.
By Saturday night at 8 o’clock, Ryan Miller had been released from the Cleveland Clinic, a little more than three hours after suffering a concussion during practice.
The fact that Miller was OK contradicted the scene inside the Browns’ field house late Saturday afternoon. Scary only begins to describe it.
Miller is a backup offensive lineman in his second season. He was a fifth-round pick out of Colorado and played in eight games as a rookie, mostly on special teams.
Miller (6-foot-7, 320 pounds) dropped to the ground at 4:39 during a one-on-one run-blocking drill between offensive and defensive linemen. He appeared to lose consciousness and lay motionless on the turf.
“Two helmets kind of hit the wrong way,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “It was kind of a freak thing, I think.”
Medical personnel rushed to Miller, and as news of the severity of the situation spread, practice stopped in waves. At one point, the only noise came from a coach leading a pass-rushing drill. Linebacker Quentin Groves ran over to alert him of the injury.
The practice field is never quiet. It got quiet and stayed that way as the team gathered around Miller, with many players taking a knee.
The silence was temporarily broken by the beeps of the medical cart in reverse.
“We’re not desensitized to it because we’re still human,” Groves said. “We’re just big men that play a sport called football. But we still have hearts. We still have emotions. We still have feelings.
“He’s our brother. We look at him as a brother. So whenever we see one our brothers down, we try to get down and say a prayer for him or whatever it is that we need to do for him.”
The medical personnel proceeded with caution in case of a neck injury. After a few minutes he was placed on an orange backboard – still wearing his helmet -- and loaded onto the cart.
Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who ran away from his drill when he heard about Miller, rushed in to offer help lifting the backboard. He said Miller talked and moved.
Coach Rob Chudzinski and other players converged to offer encouragement.
“Those are the challenges and the scares that when you sign up for the game there’s a possibility of something like that happening and it’s never ... I’ll tell you what, it made everyone realize that at any moment anything can happen,” Jackson said.
Miller was driven through the giant field house door to the waiting ambulance. A member of the Browns’ communications staff had asked the media not to identify Miller until his family had been notified. Television cameras were told to stop recording.
“The way he was laying down, you know it was that serious,” Groves said.
Chudzinski called the team in for a huddle. Everyone took a knee.
“You take the lead in these situations. That’s what I did,” the first-year coach said. “We said a prayer, said we would keep Ryan in our thoughts and I would give them updates as we got them.
“We needed to get back to work at that point and focus back on practice.”
Play resumed with an inside-run drill and a skirmish broke out within plays. As concerned as Miller’s teammates were, football usually stops for no one.
“It’s in the back of your head, but we’re professionals,” Groves said. “So it comes with the territory. So we know how to respond. We know how to act.”
That doesn’t mean it was easy.
“Sometimes it can be hard because there are things more important than football and your health is obviously one of them, so to see that is always tough,” Thomas said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get back and focus on playing football when you see a guy laying there not moving.”
Chudzinski gathered the players again at 5:51 to tell them Miller was awake, alert and had motion in all of his extremities.
“It was great to hear that,” Thomas said. “The thing you worry about is the neck because that’s kind of a big one there and when we heard it was not neck-related, that was fantastic news and you feel great about that.”
Groves, Jackson and Thomas are veterans who’ve witnessed moments like this before. Groves had a message for some of the youngsters.
“We play this game so hard, so violent. Any moment, this game could be taken away, and that’s the thing I want guys to learn from this,” he said. “Cherish the moments while you’re out here. Cherish tying your cleats up. Cherish the smell of the grass. Cherish snapping that chinstrap on because any moment it can be taken away from you.”
Thomas said he and Miller have become good friends in their year together.
“He’s a nice guy. He’s real easygoing,” Thomas said. “He’s a hard worker, he’s really kind of a gym-rat type guy.”
“We wish him a speedy recovery,” Groves said. “I can’t wait ’til he gets back out here with us to play ball.”
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