Verba wrestling with thoughts of retirement

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 10, 2003

BEREA -- Ross Verba's arm has been fixed by doctors. The rest of him is still hurting.

Verba, out for the season after rupturing his right biceps in the Cleveland Browns' final preseason game against Atlanta, is having a tough time dealing with his injury.

The massive offensive tackle hasn't been able to block out thoughts of retirement.

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''They say there are seven stages of recovery an athlete goes through,'' Verba said. ''I'm still in the shock and denial stage.''

Verba was back in the Browns' locker room on Monday for the first time since getting hurt. With his arm in a sling and wrapped from wrist to shoulder, the 29-year-old described what happened as he tried to pass block one of the Falcons on Aug. 28.

As the defender began to slip by, Verba extended his arm and heard his muscle snap.

''The muscle split in half and rolled up into my shoulder,'' he said. ''I knew something was wrong because I saw my arm palpitating. I played the next play, couldn't feel my left side and took myself out.''

Verba underwent surgery the following day and now faces five to six months of rehab before he can play again. When first asked if he would come back with the Browns, Verba seemed unsure.

''Oh, man, that's a tough question,'' he said. ''It's still probably too premature to say. Right now, the desire is low for the first time in a long time. I'm still recovering. It's going to take a while. I'm in a time of rest right now.''

Verba knows what lies ahead in rehab. Two years ago, he needed surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. Once he's mentally ready, Verba thinks he'll be able to overcome this injury, too.

''That's two big injuries to come back from, but I'll definitely do it,'' he said. ''My career is not done. I've still got some years left in me.''

Verba has one more year remaining on his contract, which will pay him $4.6 million in 2004. But the eight-year veteran, who won a Super Bowl ring as a rookie with Green Bay, has been around long enough to know the Browns may not be willing to pay that much to a player returning from a season-ending injury.

''I know the business aspect of it,'' he said. ''All I can do is my part, and right now, that's just to get healthy. If they want me to be here, then I'll be here. I'd love to be here. And if not, it's best for the organization and I respect that.''

Verba said it was tough to watch his teammates in Sunday's 9-6 loss to Indianapolis, especially when the Browns twice had first-and-goal inside the 5-yard line and couldn't score a touchdown.

He wanted to be out there.

''It's hard because I knew every play they were calling,'' he said.

Verba had high praise for Barry Stokes, his good friend, who moved from left guard to tackle as Verba's replacement and handled Colts end Dwight Freeney.

''He did a great job, against one of the best ends in the league,'' Verba said. ''He'll be fine.''

Although the Browns' offense struggled and scored just six points, he said they'll be fine, too.

''This team will battle it's tails off,'' he said. ''Give us six weeks and then evaluate us.''