By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: When Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer is grinding and pushing through pain as he rehabilitates from the season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered Oct. 3 in his right knee, he reflects on the success he achieved with his hometown team before the injury and what it would be like to regain that excitement.
“I hope that I was able to bring a spark and get this team going, and I think that was accomplished,” Hoyer said Wednesday, speaking for the first time since he suffered the injury during the first quarter of the Browns’ 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills. “For me, that was probably the hardest part. Things were going really well, and it gets just taken out right underneath you. So I’m looking forward to getting back whenever that might be, and that’s what drives me every day.”
Hoyer underwent a successful, traditional reconstruction of a torn ACL Oct. 18 at the Cleveland Clinic. No other ligament or cartilage damage was discovered.
“Just the ACL,” Hoyer said. “There was no other damage, which to me, I wonder how that could happen, only one thing gets hurt. But I’m thankful for it. If there’s a silver lining, that’s what it is. There’s no other damage, and that can accelerate your rehab.”
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski has said he’s hopeful Hoyer can be back in action by the time organized team activities start in May. Hoyer is aiming to be ready by mid-April. It usually takes players eight to 12 months to achieve a full recovery after tearing an ACL.
“I think generally an ACL is six to eight months,” said Hoyer, a North Olmsted native and St. Ignatius High School graduate. “Obviously, I would like to shoot for the shorter part of that. But for me, I just try to take it day to day, which at this point I have, so that keeps your spirits up and hopefully there are no setbacks or you come in and kind of plateau. But obviously I shoot for the lower end of what they told me.”
Hoyer led the Browns to consecutive wins over the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 22 and Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 29 with clutch, fourth-quarter touchdown drives after quarterback Brandon Weeden suffered a sprained thumb Sept. 15 against the Baltimore Ravens. In his third start for the Browns and just the fourth start of his five-year NFL career, he slid awkwardly and hyper-extended his right knee as Bills rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso hit him in the helmet at the end of an 11-yard gain, bringing his storybook season to a screeching halt.
“That’s the most disappointing thing that’s ever happened to me,” Hoyer said. ... “The cleat [got stuck], and I got hit at the same time. I think if either/or would have happened on its own, I probably would have been fine. But I got my foot down a little late, and that’s when he was hitting me.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever been on the field where I couldn’t get up on my own, and so then I kind of knew that something was up. But there was no pop or anything like that. I just had a sensation where I tried to get up, and I just told myself to stay down and let [the team’s medical personnel] come over.”
The Browns (3-5) rallied to beat the Bills that night but have lost three games in a row since and will host the Baltimore Ravens (3-4) on Sunday with Jason Campbell as the starting quarterback.
Hoyer has already been working hard to bounce back.
“You want to come in and try to get your range of motion back and keep you muscles firing,” said Hoyer, who completed 57-of-96 passes (59.4 percent) for 615 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions, posting a passer rating of 82.6 in his three starts this season. “A lot of times, it gets locked up and you can have some atrophy. So there’s a lot of stuff like that, some stretching things like that, and it varies everyday and it seems like we add something new. And for me, that seems like a positive. I don’t want to ever come in here and say, ‘That’s it, I know we can do more,’ and so [assistant athletic trainer] Gordon [Williams] has tried to tone me down a few days because I want to get after it. But I also know you’ve got to protect what just went on with the surgery.”
Can Hoyer be 100 percent healthy by the time training camp begins in late July?
“I don’t know about 100 [percent],” Hoyer said. “You’ve got to see how it goes, but that’s what you shoot for. That’s what you come in for every day, and that’s what motivates you. So I can only worry about the next day and hopefully at some point you get back to 100 percent. Obviously, it’s just not a simple ankle, not to lessen other people’s injuries. But it is a significant knee injury, and I understand that. And I’m taking the approach of coming in here and doing as much as I can to get back.”
The Browns will likely draft a quarterback next year. But Hoyer also has a future with the organization, which signed him to a two-year contract reportedly worth $1.965 million in May. He energized Northeast Ohio by helping the Browns turn around their season after they started 0-2, and he’s still involved despite his circumstances.
“It was an exciting time, which is what makes it so disappointing,” Hoyer said. “But right now, my main concern is getting back, rehabbing every day and also trying to stay involved with what’s going on with this team. I try to stay involved in studying the game plan, watching practice. Obviously, I can’t do much because I can’t sit for a very long period of time without my knee getting stiff, but once I feel like I’m getting better, I’m going to try to get back and be involved in the meetings and be there and support this team and support Jason [Campbell] and Brandon [Weeden]. We have a great team. Everybody rallies around each other.”
Hoyer has felt the love from his fans, too.
“I want to thank everyone for their support, the fans, the whole city,” Hoyer said. “Obviously, it was an awesome two or three weeks for me, and I look forward to getting back. But I do want to convey that message of how thankful I am for the support from within the organization from the top down and the city as well. It really means a lot, and it’s kept me up, my spirits up in a difficult time.”
The good news for Hoyer is his daughter, Cameron, was born three days before he underwent surgery. He and his wife, Lauren, also have a son, Garrett.
“It was a busy week at my house,” Hoyer said. “I had a baby on Tuesday and surgery on Friday and [my 28th] birthday was Sunday. But you worry about what you can control. Obviously, I had one of the best moments of my life with my daughter being born. Then Friday you go in, and I’ve never even had a surgery before. It’s a little nerve-wracking, but I got through it, I felt great, came out of surgery great and now I’m on to the rehab. It’s amazing how quickly things go. My daughter turned 2 weeks yesterday, so it’s flying by. Hopefully this rehab will fly by.”
Browns fans have the same hopes for their hometown hero.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.