BEREA, Ohio (AP) — As Ryan Miller lay motionless on the ground, shock and then fear spread through the Browns practice.
A few players near the spot where the backup offensive lineman went down dropped to a knee in prayer. The music system was turned off. All talking stopped and an eerie quiet filled Cleveland’s indoor field house.
Suddenly, a routine day at training camp was anything but.
“Anytime your brother goes down it’s scary,” linebacker Quentin Groves said, “because you never know. … We’re just big men that play a sport called football. But we still have hearts. We still have emotions. We still have feelings. He’s our brother.”
Miller sustained a concussion during a one-on-one blocking drill Saturday, an injury that shook his teammates, who were later relieved to learn that the 6-foot-7, 320-pounder had been released from the Cleveland Clinic. Until getting word that Miller had movement in his extremities and was responsive, several of the Browns were worried Miller may have suffered a devastating injury.
“It’s always tough to see your fellow linemen or one of your teammates go down like that,” Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas said. “It’s hard because obviously there are things more important than football and your health is certainly one of them. Sometimes it’s hard to get back and focused on football when you see a guy laying there and not moving.”
Miller, who is in his second NFL season, was immobilized, strapped to a backboard and taken by ambulance to the hospital after he was hurt. He spent several hours undergoing tests before he was released.
“He’s doing well,” first-year coach Rob Chudzinski said following practice. “He’s responsive and it sounds like things are better at this point.”
The Browns were about 40 minutes into their third practice, which was moved indoors because of rain and closed to the public, when Miller got hurt. He crumpled to the field and appeared to be unconscious on his back while most of teammates, who were unaware that he had been hurt, continued to take part in drills.
Groves realized something was seriously wrong and began alerting anyone he could.
“The way he was laying down, you know it was that serious,” he said.
Moments after medical personnel rushed to aid the unmoving Miller, Chudzinski came over to check on him along with linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and others. After Miller was immobilized and strapped to a backboard, the entire Browns team and coaching staff huddled around him in prayer.
“We got together,” said Chudzinski, Cleveland’s first-year coach. “We said a prayer, said we would keep Ryan in our thoughts and I would give them updates as we got them. We needed to get back to work at that point and focus back on practice.”
It was difficult for everyone.
The Browns asked media members not to report Miller’s name until his family could be contacted, raising fears he was hurt more severely. And, as Miller was being treated, the team also requested for cameras be turned off to protect his privacy.
Meanwhile, Miller’s teammates were hoping for the best.
“We play this game so hard, so violent,” Groves said. “Any moment, this game could be taken away, and that’s the thing I want guys to learn from this. Cherish the moments while you’re out here. Cherish tying your cleats up. Cherish the smell of the grass. Cherish snapping that chinstrap on because any moment it can be taken away from you.”
Chudzinski did not see how Miller got hurt, but Thomas said it was the result of helmet-to-helmet contact. It was not immediately known what defensive player Miller was blocking when he went down.
“Two helmets kind of hit the wrong way,” he said. “It was kind of a freak thing.”
After Miller was wheeled from the building, Chudzinski huddled his players and promised to give them an update when he got one. And about an hour later he got the news that the 24-year-old was “alert and awake.”
“Anytime that happens you just pray and just hope for the best and hope everything is OK,” Jackson said. “Coach gave us word that he is fine and that’s a good thing. But those are the challenges and the scares that when you sign up for the game there’s a possibility of something like that happening. I’ll tell you what, it made everyone realize that at any moment anything can happen.”
Chudzinski was proud of the way his team handled the difficult event.
“I thought they did a great job,” he said. “It really says a lot about them, our coaches, our staff and our players to be able to do that. This team is a family and when something happens to a family member like that, it’s tough. These guys did a great job of staying focused and getting a lot of work done that we needed to get done.”
Miller was drafted by the Browns in the fifth round in 2012 out of Colorado. He appeared in eight games as a rookie, and got extended time in the fourth quarter of the season finale at Pittsburgh after John Greco sustained a knee injury. He was a four-year letter winner at Colorado, setting a school record with 48 career starts. He missed just two offensive plays over his final three seasons.
Thomas, who has become close to Miller, was thrilled to hear he was doing better.
“When we heard it was not neck-related, that was fantastic news and you feel great about that,” he said. “He’s a nice guy. He’s real easygoing. He’s a hard worker. He’s really kind of a gym-rat type guy and him and I have become good friends in the last year for sure.”
NOTES: DT Phil Taylor (calf strain) and TE Kellen Davis (knee strain) returned to practice on a limited basis. Taylor took part in individual drills and was held out of team sessions. … OL Oneil Cousins will miss a “couple weeks” with a sprained ankle, Chudzinski said. … The Browns will be in full pads for the first time Sunday. … The Browns did some extensive work on screen passes, a staple of Chudzinski’s offense.