BEREA, Ohio --_ Orange helmet in hand and wearing "I'M" on
one wrist and "BACK" on the other, Braylon Edwards burst through
the glass doors of Browns headquarters and sprinted onto the
practice field as if it was an NFL Sunday.
For Edwards, it felt like one.
"This is the happiest I've ever been," Edwards said.
Cleveland's second-year wide receiver, who underwent knee
surgery in January and wasn't expected to be ready to play in games
until October, unexpectedly returned to practice for the first time
with the Browns on Saturday.
Edwards tore the anterior cruciate ligament while trying to make
a leaping catch against Jacksonville on Dec. 4, ending his rookie
season and requiring him to undergo surgery on Jan. 3.
But just short of seven months into his rehab, more than two
months before expected, Edwards is playing football again.
"I shouldn't be where I am," he said. "But I am."
Edwards thinks he might even be able to play in the Browns'
season opener on Sept. 10 against New Orleans.
"It's looking real good," said Edwards, who attributed his
quick comeback to hard work, youth and some good genes. "I think
my body is a little different than anybody's. I do have a little
Edwards said he would be "shocked" if he wasn't back to 100
percent by Oct. 1.
The Browns, who have been snake-bitten by major injuries in
recent years, initially targeted Sept. 1 as Edwards return date for
practice. However, the 6-foot-3, 212-pounder who was taken with the
No. 3 overall selection in the 2005 draft, was way ahead of the
club's medical timetable.
Edwards said he was running just three months after surgery, and
that during his entire recovery he and the Browns' medical staff
has pushed him only as much as his knee would allow.
"God forbid, if anything happens to our race and creed,"
Browns owner Randy Lerner said, "they should use his DNA to
rebuild the population."
Edwards had to first pass a physical and be medically cleared by
team doctors before he could practice. The Browns had placed the
former Michigan star on the active physically unable to perform
list when camp opened.
As Edwards ran onto the field, he was cheered by hundreds of
Browns fans who never expected to see him so soon. Edwards' arrival
helps soften the loss of center LeCharles Bentley, who suffered a
season-ending knee injury during the first play of 11-on-11 drills
Edwards' return also meant the Browns could finally see him and
Kellen Winslow, their top pick in 2004, on the field together.
Winslow missed most of the past two seasons with serious leg
During the early stages of practice, Edwards and Winslow played
catch and during a lull, Edwards heaved the ball toward the other
side of the field trying to hit Winslow, who had turned his back
for a moment.
"We got real close in the offseason," Edwards said. "We talk
everyday about what we want to do for this organization. He and I
are going to make some magic this year, and for years to come."
The Browns are counting on the pair as targets for second-year
quarterback Charlie Frye and to improve an offense that scored a
league-low 232 points last season.
About midway through the workout, Edwards ran over and slapped
hands with fans standing along one sideline.
Edwards won't be involved in any contact for some time, as the
Browns will be cautious with him. He did take part in some team
drills, and made his first catch of camp by hauling in a short pass
from quarterback Ken Dorsey.
Edwards missed the first two weeks of training camp last summer
in a contract holdout. The missed time put him behind and he didn't
become a regular starter until midway through last season.
He finished with 32 catches for 512 yards and three touchdowns,
two of them coming in the first half of the game he was hurt.
"I think all of this has made me mentally stronger player,
stronger than I've ever been," Edwards said.