Losing LBs, quickly Versatile Boyer out six weeks after breaking bone in foot
JEFF SCHUDEL , Morning Journal Writer 08/07/2004
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Unless things change quickly, it looks like linebacker will replace offensive line as the Browns' Bermuda Triangle this season.
Brant Boyer, more valuable to the team than his numbers will ever reflect, will be out an estimated six weeks after breaking his foot yesterday morning while the Browns practiced against the Bills.
Boyer is a reserve linebacker capable of playing all three positions. He is also the captain of special teams. He broke the fifth metatarsal -- the bone leading to the small toe -- of his right foot. He and team physician Anthony Miniachi were flown immediately to Cleveland on team owner Randy Lerner's private jet. Miniachi was to surgically insert a screw to fuse the broken bone together.
''He's a leader,'' coach Butch Davis said, not wanting to dwell on the injury. ''That certainly is evident. The first three years he was voted by his teammates as captain of the special teams because of his play and work ethic.''
Boyer was one of four linebackers unable to work against the Bills. Also out for physical reasons are Chaun Thompson (wrist) and Mason Unck (hamstring). Andra Davis is absent for personal reasons.
Four days ago during practice in Berea, Thompson, a starting outside linebacker, fractured a carpal bone in his left wrist. He is expected back before the end of preseason, but he is missing valuable time because he is a starter in his second year trying to learn on the fly.
''We're counting on him being full-go in a couple weeks,'' defensive coordinator Dave Campo said. ''As far as I'm concerned, if he comes back he'll work his way in and go from there. I'm hoping he'll be able to do some seven-on-seven without contact until he's ready to go.''
It was Campo that surprised Thompson in March by telling the second-year linebacker from little West Texas A&M that he'd start this season. Instead of freezing up, Thompson grabbed the chance and earned the ''iron man award,'' a trophy given to the player that puts in the most time and effort under strength coach Buddy Morris. Thompson added 25 pounds and will play this season at 250.
''I like what Chaun is doing,'' Campo said. ''He's picking things up really well. You can see his speed on the field. He's learning something new every day.''
Andra Davis is not with the Browns for the scrimmage against the Bills today at St. John Fisher College because he was excused to attend his grandfather's funeral in Live Oak, Fla. He will be back with the team Monday. But for today, with no Boyer, Davis, Thompson or Unck, the run defense so maligned last year will be put to the test while going up against Bills backs Travis Henry and Willis McGahee.
''We expect to play good run defense,'' coach Davis said. ''I told the players that during the season guys are going to get nicked. The whole part of what we tried to accomplish in the offseason was add guys like Warrick Holdman and (defensive end) Ebenezer Ekuban. It gives guys the opportunity in training camp to realize they have to be ready. It puts important pressure on our backup guys to be prepared.''
Holdman is the linebacker signed from the Bears in free agency in April. He and Eric Westmoreland, a linebacker signed last week after the Thompson injury, got more practice time because of the rash of injuries. So did Sherrod Coates, a second-year player who saw most of his action last year on special teams along with Barry Gardner, Ben Taylor and Kevin Bentley.
Boyer made 80 tackles last season yet started only six games. He made 18 tackles against the Rams in a Monday night game Dec. 8. He had 21 special teams tackles last year, 33 in 2002 and 26 in 2001, his first season with the Browns after six with Jacksonville and one with Miami.
At 6-1, 240 pounds, Boyer is not as physically imposing as Thompson or Andra Davis, but he plays smart, and when one of the young linebackers needs help, Boyer is the one they turn to.
And it isn't only the coaches and linebackers that wish him a speedy recovery. He is the personal protector on punts, meaning he's the guy that lines up about five yards behind and to the side of long snapper Ryan Pontbriand to pick off any stray rushers on their way to Derrick Frost or Ryan Dutton, the two punters battling to replace Chris Gardocki.
Chris Crocker, Taylor and Bentley have worked as Frost's personal protector. In addition to being able to block flawlessly, the player in that position is also charged with calling out the blocking schemes, which means he has to recognize exactly what punt rush the opponent is using.
''Brant is a good guy to have around all the time, especially in the linebackers' room,'' Taylor said. ''He always has everything upbeat in the locker room. The young guys watch him week in and week out on how he prepares himself. From that standpoint, we're going to miss Brant.
''He makes all the calls on special teams. Hopefully he can be back before long. He said his groin was bothering him before that. I told him, ÔWell, you don't have to worry about your groin, now.
''But Brant's a great guy. I wish the best for him. You can't replace Brant, but you want to uphold what he's brought to the table so far.''
Coach Davis said Boyer was injured without contact. Boyer planted his foot and when he moved, the bone broke. It was a recurrence of an injury sustained in quarterback school in the spring, Davis said.