Improved injury report may mean Suggs can play this season

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 5, 2003

BEREA - Looks like that questionable Cleveland Browns' draft may have gotten a lot better.

Rookie running back Lee Suggs, one of several surprising selections by the Browns in last weekend's draft, said he may be able to play this season following shoulder surgery.

The Browns, whose seven picks were widely panned by most NFL experts, thought Suggs had a torn rotator cuff and would be unable to play until the 2004 season.

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However, Cleveland team doctors told the Virginia Tech star he only has a partial tear, which should shorten his recovery time following arthroscopic surgery.

''There's a realistic possibility this could not be as significant a setback as any of us thought,'' Browns coach Butch Davis said.

Suggs doesn't know when he'll be ready, but judging by his ability to quickly bounce back from major knee surgery, it might be sooner than anyone expects.

''I just want to get out on the field and play,'' said Suggs, who rushed for 1,325 yards and 22 touchdowns last season after recovering from a torn knee ligament. ''I want to prove a whole lot of people wrong.''

Davis said team physician Dr. John Bergfeld was encouraged by MRI results and surgery will likely be scheduled for mid-May.

Davis took the news on Suggs with guarded optimism.

''I still have certain reservations until they go inside,'' Davis said. ''That's not trying to put a damper on the situation at all. I'm just trying to be realistic. I'm not a surgeon. Once they get inside, they might find it's slightly more torn than expected or slightly less.''

Suggs' stock slipped in the draft after he didn't work out at the scouting combine and had a sub-par performance during an individual workout.

He said his shoulder was hurting so badly - he injured it in a January bowl win over Air Force - that he was unable to lift weights and he paid for it.

Now Suggs wants to make the teams who didn't believe in him pay.

''I know I'm not a fourth-round draft pick and so do some of the teams that passed on me,'' said Suggs, who holds the NCAA record by scoring a TD in 27 straight games. ''They were scared because of my shoulder. But now I have a chance to prove a whole lot of people wrong.''

The club was given poor grades following last week's draft, which included Davis taking linebacker Chaun Thompson from tiny West Texas A&M in the second round and a long snapper, Ryan Pontbriand, in the fifth.

''But if we all go out and play well, then everyone will say they had a good draft,'' said center Jeff Faine, the club's first-round pick.

Faine, along with the other draft picks, 23 free agents signed earlier this week and just guys trying out, took physicals and to took part in their first practice as pros Friday.

New faces mixed with some familiar ones in the Browns' locker room as several of the club's veterans were at the facility working out.

Defensive end Israel Idonije, who played at the University of Manitoba, tightened the snaps on his shiny orange Browns helmet as some fellow rookies - all wearing gray T-shirts - scribbled down notes before practice.

''It's awesome,'' said Idonije as the 6-foot-6, 275-pounder taken in the CFL draft on Wednesday scanned the Browns' spacious locker room. ''This is the NFL.''

The newest Browns were awed by the opulent facilities at the team's training complex.

Thompson's college didn't have enough money to hire a strength and conditioning coach and barely enough to afford some barbells and plates for the weight room.

Thompson said he was blown away when he saw the Browns' strength room for the first time.

''I was like, 'This is nice, man','' he said. ''This might as well be a sports club.''