Browns lose punter for season in non-contact drill
BEREA, Ohio (AP) -- In just their second practice in full pads, the Cleveland Browns had a valuable player go down without being touched.
And he's not coming back anytime soon.
Punter Reggie Hodges, one of the AFC's best last season, tore his Achilles tendon Tuesday and will be out for the season. Team president Mike Holmgren said he would have surgery.
After being helped to his feet, Hodges was carted off the field. He covered his face with a white towel to hide his disappointment.
"It's terrible," long snapper Ryan Pontbriand said following the Browns' fourth practice of training camp. "I couldn't even concentrate the rest of practice after it happened. Hopefully, he can come back from this."
Hodges was going through a routine drill when he got hurt. He caught a snap in the back of the end zone, took one step forward and crumpled to the turf, curling up in a ball. He was attended to for several minutes by trainers before being carted off - a sight that recalled center LeCharles Bentley's career-ending knee injury on the first play of full-contact practice in 2007.
Now a radio talk show host, Bentley visited Cleveland's camp.
First-year Browns coach Pat Shurmur was standing within a few feet of Hodges when the injury took place.
"He just reached up and the snap was about head high and he did something he's done a million times," Shurmur said. "He had a nice year last year."
Hodges, who also holds on field-goal attempts, had an outstanding 2010. He averaged 43.9 yards on 78 punts for a season that began with him beating out former Browns punter Dave Zastudil in training camp. Hodges had 29 punts inside the 20-yard line and finished third in the league with 15 punts inside the 10. Over his last 11 games, Hodges had 21 punts inside the 10 and no touchbacks.
Hodges also had one of the Browns' most memorable plays, when he ran 68 yards up the middle on a faked punt in an upset of the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
In November, the Browns signed Hodges, who punted for five teams in five years, to a two-year contract extension.
"He's very valuable," Pontbriand said. "He's responsible for turning the field over, giving us momentum, pinning them deep and he was one of the top five I think last year inside the 20 - that's huge on game day."
Shurmur spoke with Hodges after practice.
"He was noticeably disappointed," Shurmur said. "Like I told him, there are times when you get injured. Part of being a pro is fighting back from injury and getting yourself in position where you can play once again, and I think he's the kind of guy who can get that done."
The Browns have no other punters in camp, and will now have to find one. Shurmur said the team will hold tryouts Wednesday.
"We're going to look for the best possible replacement that we can, and we're going to quickly address that," Shurmur said. "We'll have some guys in tomorrow and get a tryout going. We'll keep hunting and searching."
Kicker Phil Dawson could punt in an emergency, but he can't practice until Thursday at the earliest after signing his franchise tag late last week. Under the NFL's new collective bargaining rules, players who sign contracts are not permitted to practice with the team until Thursday.
Shurmur would not reveal the names of any possible candidates, but Zastudil could be an option. He was forced to shut down last year because of a bad knee. Last week, the veteran had a tryout with the Houston Texans. His agent, Neil Cornrich, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Notes: QB Colt McCoy looked sharp during the morning workout but was picked off twice, once by rookie CB Buster Skrine, who ran it back for a touchdown in 11-on-11 drills. ... RB Montario Hardesty was held out of full-pad practice for the second straight day. Shurmur maintains it is all precautionary as the second-year player comes back from knee injuries. ... Dropped passes were in abundance, most notably by rookie WR Greg Little, who couldn't hang on to two of McCoy's tosses. ... Third-string QB Jarrett Brown has a rocket arm. How far can he fling it? "Oh, about 200 yards," he said with a smile.
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