Injury Leaves Browns With Big Hole To Fill - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Injury Leaves Browns With Big Hole To Fill

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Jamir Miller's season is over, leaving the Cleveland Browns without one of their captains, spiritual leaders and only Pro Bowler.

And leaving them with a big hole to fill.

Miller will miss the entire 2002 NFL season after tearing his right Achilles' tendon during Cleveland's 27-15 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday.

"On the bus, he was clearly disappointed," Browns coach Butch Davis said of Miller, who had a breakout 2001 season. "He had such high expectations. He'd gone to the Pro Bowl and you want to come back with a very good year. You can imagine how crushed he was."

Miller will undergo surgery Monday morning and will need 5-to-6 months to fully recover, Davis said.

Still, Davis remains confident his team will be able to replace its top defensive player.

"We're going to overcome it," Davis said. "We're going to find somebody who will step up and we're going to play well. Our expectations are not going to diminish because Jamir is not there."

Losing Miller in their exhibition opener is the latest blow for the Browns, who had a rash of serious injuries last season in Davis' first year as coach. Cleveland led the league with 16 players on injured reserve.

Miller was the top playmaker and leader of Cleveland's young defense, which led the NFL with 42 takeaways and a team-record 33 interceptions in 2001.

After Davis installed a defensive scheme suited to his talents, Miller tied for the AFC lead with 13 sacks and became the first Browns player to earn a trip to Honolulu since 1999.

Expectations this season were as high for Miller as they are for the Browns.

Miller, who played Cleveland's strong side, was injured as Minnesota's Moe Williams scored on a 4-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Davis said Miller didn't do anything unusual on the play, his tendon just "snapped".

Davis said doctors told him there could have been "four or five reasons" Miller got hurt but the injury was not caused by the Metrodome's artificial turf.

Miller followed his All-Pro season by demanding that the Browns tear up the final two years of his contract, and sought a $12 million signing bonus.

There was speculation he would hold out this summer.

The Browns had also tried to trade the nine-year veteran on the eve of April's NFL draft. Cleveland validated the trade talk by drafting three linebackers.

"We already had a pretty good battle plan," Davis said. "I always felt like he would be here, but you always have to Plan B ready."

It began Sunday as the Browns signed linebacker Darren Hambrick, who started nine games for the Carolina Panthers last season.

Hambrick, 26, spent three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys before being waived in 2001. The 6-foot-2, 227-pound Hambrick led the Cowboys with 154 tackles in 2000.

"He started at Sam (strong side) for Dallas a couple years ago," Davis said of Hambrick. "A very fast, athletic guy."

Hambrick will get thrown right into the mix as the Browns look to replace Miller, who was also used as an outside pass-rush specialist on third downs.

Davis mentioned Brant Boyer, Marquis Smith, Lenoy Jones, Michael Smith and rookies Kevin Bentley and Ben Taylor as possible candidates to move into Miller's spot.

"The door is not closed on anybody," Miller said.

Davis, too, said he may switch players to new positions, but he doesn't want linebacker Dwayne Rudd to be one of them. Rudd played some strong side while he was with Minnesota, but Davis said he's best suited to be the Browns' "Will," or weak-side linebacker.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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