BEREA: David Nelson is trying to strike a balance between making the world a better place and showing his new teammates and coaches he’s fully committed to coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and making an impact with the Browns.
Nelson was on the field for the first practice of the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp Tuesday, working out on the sideline with a trainer in his quest to rebound from the season-ending knee injury he suffered Sept. 9 and subsequently had repaired by renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Nelson missed the past couple weeks of organized team activities because he was out of town rehabbing with his own trainer and establishing an orphan-care ministry in Haiti with help from his brothers Patrick and Daniel.
It might seem odd that Nelson would feel the need to defend his absence from voluntary OTAs when he was spearheading such an admirable cause. But in the NFL, coaches work nonstop, and they expect their players to match their level of dedication.
Nelson realized he needed to discuss his priorities with Browns coach Rob Chudzinski, and he vowed to be locked in for the start of training camp July 25.
“I knew that a lot of people thought my mind was different places and wandering different places,” said Nelson, who signed a one-year contract with the Browns in April after spending the past three seasons as a slot receiver with the Buffalo Bills, in his first interview with the local media. “I wanted to let [Chudzinski] know that I’m 100 percent focused on football, and I’m 100 percent committed to this football team.
“It’s kind of been [an] ongoing [conversation] for the past couple weeks, just because he knows how passionate I am about [charitable work]. He knows how much it means to me, and he’s not trying to take that away from my life. But also he wants to just kind of gauge where I’m at mentally with this football team. So I just wanted to make sure he knew I’m completely committed, and when [training camp] rolls around, [football] is all I’m going to do.”
Nelson, 26, expects to be physically ready to practice by the time training camp begins. He has been working toward that goal under the guidance of Sheri Walters, the head physical therapist for Athletes’ Performance in Frisco, Texas.
“That was something I had cleared with the coaches before I left, and I didn’t want to be a distraction, didn’t want it to look like I was putting myself above the team,” Nelson said. “I definitely talked to the coaching staff, talked to a few of my teammates as well, and cleared it with them before I left. I wanted to let them know that I wasn’t just abandoning them, and I wasn’t going for a vacation. I was going to work. I was going to do something that I felt like was beneficial to my career and beneficial to myself physically.
“I’ve been with [Walters] for three years. She knows how my body works. She knows how I am mentally. She knows how fast I recover, how fast I don’t recover, how far to push me, how far not to push me. So with this kind of recovery, it’s very strenuous, it’s very meticulous. So with her, we were able to make sure everything was completely taken care of, and she did a great job, and I feel like I’m ready to go.”
Chudzinski said he didn’t have a problem with Nelson rehabbing away from the team.
“The biggest things for him were getting his injury right, his knee right,” Chudzinski said. “That was the priority, and that was fine.”
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Nelson said he kept up with the mental side of the game by watching practice footage and studying the playbook on an iPad. He expects to line up in the slot and on the outside in offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s system.
Although Nelson is eager to make a comeback, he’ll always have interests outside of football. The orphanage will be overseen by one of his brothers, feature eight cottages and house about 80 children. Nelson went on a mission trip a year and a half ago and felt compelled to make a difference in Haiti, where food and shelter is scarce and medication is a necessity to ward off malaria.
“You can watch TV all you want to and send money and hope for the best, but I got tired of doing that and I wanted to be on the front line and go and do something and be a difference for these kids,” Nelson said. “Once you meet these kids, you are never the same. They have touched my heart in a way where I can’t sit back and hear about them. I have to be there to help and lead people who can go in and help.”
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 www.facebook.com/browns.abj.