By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns wide receiver David Nelson is on the verge of entering his first live NFL action since a knee injury threatened his career a year ago, and he knows it’ll be an emotional experience.
As a member of the Buffalo Bills, Nelson suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last year during the season opener Sept. 9 against the New York Jets and hasn’t played in a game since. He signed a one-year deal with the Browns in April but missed most of training camp and the first three preseason games after suffering a bone bruise in his surgically repaired knee.
Now Nelson is eager to show his new team what he can do when the Browns face the Chicago Bears for the preseason finale Thursday night at Soldier Field. Coach Rob Chudzinski said Nelson will play.
“I’ve got a lot of emotions,” Nelson said before practice Monday. “I think I’ll be a little choked up running out there just because I know how hard I’ve worked to get back here. I know a lot of the things that were thrown at me the past year, the things I’ve had to overcome to get back to this position and be able to play in the National Football League again.
“It’s been a crazy year for me. It’s been the most frustrating, disappointing, hardest year of my life. So it’s just one of those things where I just got to continue to push. I made it this far, and I’m excited for the opportunity.”
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Nelson missed the first full-squad practice of camp and then participated in the next six. But on Aug. 1, his knee hyper-extended as he ran a route, causing the bone bruise and forcing him to the sidelines. He returned to practice Aug. 18 and has slowly been working his way back.
Nelson, 26, believes he’s ready to take the next step on his comeback trail.
“I feel extremely confident,” Nelson said. “I think the trainers have done a great job getting me ready to go. I feel like my knee is stronger than ever, and I feel really good to go. I feel 100 percent confident in it, and I’m just ready to show what I can do.
“I felt ready two weeks ago. I honestly did. I felt 100 percent ready to go last week. It was just a cautionary thing. They just decided not to go, and I had to live with their decision. But I don’t feel rushed one bit. I feel ready to go, and I think it’s about time.”
Nelson spent the past three seasons with the Bills and became an unrestricted free agent in March after they decided not to issue a $1.323 million qualifying offer that would have made him a restricted free agent. He’s hoping to move past his knee issues and reward the Browns for their faith.
“I try to be reliable and dependable,” said Nelson, who played primarily in the slot for the Bills but expects to move around in offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s system. “I try to be in the right place at the right time and always make plays. If you followed my career, you’ve known that I don’t drop passes and I get open. So I’m not the fastest guy out there. But I understand defenses, and I understand the scheme of the offense. So I try to use that to my advantage.”
In 2011, Nelson started 13 of the 16 games in which he appeared and caught 61 passes for 658 yards and five touchdowns. As an undrafted rookie from the University of Florida, Nelson tallied 31 receptions for 353 yards and three touchdowns in 2010. He has been targeted 146 times in his career and has dropped only six passes, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
“Obviously he’s a big target on the outside,” starting quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “He allows you to do a lot of different things. I’m glad to see him healthy. He’s been battling that injury bug, so it’s nice to have him back out. He’s a veteran guy in this league, and he knows how to play the position. The more the merrier.”
The Browns hope Nelson can step up because they’ll need reinforcements when their No. 1 receiver, Josh Gordon, serves a two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy to start the regular season. So now Nelson needs to stay healthy and develop chemistry with Weeden.
“I threw with him in practice maybe five times the entire training camp,” Nelson said. “It’s just the way it goes. We’re going to continue to mold and grow together and hopefully we can develop something special because I’ve had that chemistry with my quarterbacks in the past, and hopefully we can continue to develop that.”
The Browns terminated the contract of wide receiver Jordan Norwood, the team announced Monday.
Norwood, who spent the past three seasons with the Browns, had a strong start to camp, but a nagging hamstring injury sidelined him for several practices and two preseason games. Norwood, 26, returned to practice Thursday but sat out Saturday night during the 27-6 exhibition loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He played in the preseason opener Aug. 8, catching one pass for 9 yards.
The 5-11, 180-pound Norwood had 13 catches for 137 yards in two games last season. He suffered a foot injury Oct. 7 against the New York Giants that sidelined him for the rest of the season.
In 2011, Norwood started four of the 14 games in which he appeared for the Browns. He had 23 catches for 268 yards and one touchdown.
Former Browns General Manager Tom Heckert brought Norwood to Cleveland in 2010 as a practice-squad player. He was on the active roster for five games but did not play that season. Norwood spent the 2009 season with the Philadelphia Eagles and appeared in one game.
With Norwood gone, wide receiver Josh Cooper’s chances of surviving roster cuts have seemingly increased. Cooper had two catches for 16 yards Saturday.
The Browns also waived four undrafted rookies: cornerback Vernon Kearney, defensive end Dave Kruger, wide receiver Cordell Roberson and inside linebacker Tommy Smith.
As expected, the Browns placed running back Dion Lewis on season-ending injured reserve with a surgically repaired fractured fibula. Lewis broke his left leg Aug. 15 with 7:52 left in the third quarter of the Browns’ preseason win over the Detroit Lions when he caught a pass from quarterback Jason Campbell for 6 yards and was tackled by linebackers Travis Lewis and Ashlee Palmer.
He had surgery Aug. 19. The next day, Chudzinski said Lewis would “likely” be put on season-ending IR.
In April, the Browns traded backup linebacker Emmanuel Acho to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Lewis. One of the most pleasant surprises of camp, Lewis was listed third on the depth chart when he was injured.
In two preseason games, Lewis had 10 carries for 45 yards (4.5 average) to go along with seven catches for 37 yards and a touchdown.
All NFL teams are required to trim their rosters to a maximum of 75 players before 4 p.m. today and a maximum of 53 players before 6 p.m. Saturday. The Browns have 82 players on their active roster.
Starting tight end Jordan Cameron worked out on the side with a trainer and did not participate in practice Monday because he was resting a strained groin and is listed as day-to-day, Chudzinski said through a team spokesman. In May, Cameron missed time during organized team activities with a groin injury.
Cameron had two catches for 7 yards Saturday against the Colts.
Meanwhile, tight end Gary Barnidge (sprained AC joint in shoulder) returned to practice Monday.
“It feels good,” Barnidge said. “I’ve got no issues right now.”
Starting outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard (knee) and wide receiver Davone Bess (tendinitis in knee) also returned to practice Monday as expected. Barnidge, Sheard and Bess sat out practice last week and were sidelined against the Colts.
In addition to Cameron, kicker Brandon Bogotay (strained groin), cornerback Chris Owens (strained foot), free safety Jamoris Slaughter (pulled groin), starting defensive end Desmond Bryant (back spasms) and wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt (hamstring) worked on the side with a trainer Monday. Meanwhile, rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (bruised lung) watched practice.
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.