Jamoris Slaughter was dealt a bad hand in 2012.
Notre Dame went on a historical run — 12-0 in the regular season, one of the best years for the Irish in quite some time — and earned a chance to play in the BCS National Championship Game.
But Slaughter, Notre Dame’s free safety and a sixth-round pick of the Browns in last week’s NFL Draft, missed almost all of it after tearing his Achilles’ tendon in the third game of the season.
“It was tough to deal with just for the simple fact that we were coming back to glory,” Slaughter said. “I kind of felt like I wasn’t a part of it even though I was. But deep down I want to be out on the field every play with my teammates. It was a humbling process. It taught me a lot about myself.”
Slaughter’s coaches learned a thing or two about him through that time, too. Chuck Martin, who was Slaughter’s position coach at Notre Dame before moving to the offensive side of the ball prior to the 2012 season, admired how he dealt with being delivered such a tough circumstance.
“He’s such a first-class individual,” Martin said. “He was such a major part of our team coming off such an unbelievable junior year. He just went down with a freak injury. It’s how his mother raised him, to be such a positive kid. He saw it as a bump in the road and he’d come back stronger. He kept leading. He’s a pretty amazing leader.”
Bob Elliot was the safeties coach last season, his first with Notre Dame.
“It was really tough for him but he handled it like a champion,” Elliot said. “Jamoris was in every meeting, he watched every bit of film, he was at every practice. That’s a hard thing to do. He’s so mature and so far beyond his years.”
Slaughter and his coaches all admitted to being a little relieved that he was drafted at all, finally taken by the Browns in the sixth round with the No. 175 overall selection. Although he might have carried a grade before the draft warranting a late second day or early third-day selection, recovering from such a major injury might have left him off of teams’ draft boards altogether.
Slaughter says his rehab is coming along fine.
“I’m about 90 percent right now,” he said in a conference call with reporters on Saturday. “I’m able to do sprinting and cutting and I’ve been doing back drills. ... The main thing for me now is getting my power and explosion back.”
That explosiveness, when Slaughter’s been healthy, might be his best attribute. Known to have a knack for the big hit, Slaughter carries himself like a sledgehammer from his free safety spot.
“He’s a bundle of explosiveness and loves contact,” Martin said. “In his recruitment out of high school, he was ferocious. ... But he’s a solid tackler. He wasn’t trying to carelessly knock people out. The big hits came when he had them lined up and he could unload on them. I’ve been around all-or-nothing guys, that’s not him.”
Slaughter’s had a reputation for knocking people senseless for a long time, to the point that his name fits his playing style pretty precisely.
“I think it started when I started playing park ball, when I was in the little leagues,” he said. “I was always the skinny kid and I was just known for being a skinny kid that could hit. I was always like the first person to knock the quarterback’s helmet off in the 90-pound league and I kind of got that reputation when I was young.
“I think I just have a laid-back, cool, collective side to me. But on the field, it’s kind of like I can be my alter ego and be another person and I just kind of feel like a warrior out on the field.”
Slaughter figures to play free safety for the Browns opposite strong safety T.J. Ward. Should he be healthy enough, he has a chance to compete for a starting spot with Tashaun Gipson but will probably get more time on special teams early in the season.
At Notre Dame, he served in a couple of different capacities. Slaughter often started at safety, but at times moved down almost as a nickel cornerback to cover slot receivers 1-on-1. He also played some snaps at what was a cross between a defensive back and an outside linebacker position.
Although Slaughter had the body and athleticism to make such a transition, it was his football intelligence that really allowed him to be moved around.
“He’s really cerebral, really smart,” Martin said. “The game came very easily to him mentally. A lot of guys have the athleticism to play different spots. But usually they play worse because they’re worrying about one or the other. Jamoris, it didn’t matter where we put him. He could bounce around and still play at a high level.”
Elliot compared Slaughter’s football IQ to that of Harrison Smith, a first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in last year’s draft.
“He’s as smart as can be, like Harrison Smith was,” Elliot said. “He can control the secondary and make adjustments on the run. That position requires a lot of checks to be made.”
Tearing an Achilles’ tendon isn’t an adjustment Slaughter, or anyone, was able to make. That one, he had to wait out, and it cost him a chance at a BCS title run. Should his history indicate anything, it’s that he’ll figure out a way to overcome it. And then hammer a receiver across the middle.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/browns.abj.