BEREA: As Browns defensive end Marcus Benard reached out to exchange handshakes with reporters, the evidence from his terrifying experience came to the forefront.
It’s a long, wide scar on the back of Benard’s right hand, a reminder that he not only has received a second chance at an NFL career, but also a second chance at life.
Shortly after leaving practice on the afternoon of Oct. 10, Benard crashed his three-wheeled motorcycle into a guardrail on Interstate 71 in Brooklyn. He was thrown 241 feet from the bike, according to the police report.
Benard spent three nights at the Cleveland Clinic while recovering from his broken hand and other undisclosed injuries. In his first interview since the accident, Benard declined to discuss the details of his injuries or the accident, but he expressed how thankful he is to be alive.
“Above anything, [I’m] blessed,” Benard said Wednesday after the Browns held the first practice in their second set of organized team activities. “I’m happy to be here. It was an event. It’s not something that I can just shrug off or anyone else can just shrug off.
“It was very serious. I feel like it was a blessing, and you learn your lessons. You learn more about life. You learn more about yourself. Sitting out and going through what I went through — rehab and everything — you always sit back and evaluate yourself and evaluate your position in life and definitely [gain] a little bit of insight.”
Benard, 26, said he thought about his three young boys, Domanic, Marcus Jr. and Ashai, immediately following the accident.
“That’s my heart, and I don’t ever want to disappoint them,” Benard said. “I want to be there for them.”
The Browns showed their support every step of the way, Benard said. The team paid him $370,000, the remainder of his 2011 base salary of $525,000, even though it wasn’t required to do so once he ended up on the reserve non-football injury list.
Now Benard is eager to capitalize on his second chance by earning a role as a pass rusher. He practiced with the second-team defense on Wednesday.
Last summer, Benard came to training camp about 20 pounds heavier than the previous season because he wanted to gain weight as he transitioned from being a linebacker in a 3-4 defense to an end in a 4-3 scheme. Browns coach Pat Shurmur criticized Benard for being out of shape, but that’s not the case this year. The 6-foot-2 Benard said he weighs 260 pounds.
“He looks like a different guy, physically,” Shurmur said. “He’s much leaner. He looks much more fit, and he’s flashed just in the little bit you can see from defensive linemen. He looks to me like he is putting himself in position to have a good camp, and that’s good.”
Shurmur believes Benard has changed for the better as a result of the accident.
“I think we all go through things in life that refocus us on doing things the right way and allowing us to be able to continue to do the things that are important to us,” Shurmur said. “He’s done that, he looks like he is in good shape, and I am glad he is here to help compete and make this team.”
“I learned a valuable lesson — just the appreciation of life,” he said.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.