BEREA — The play was routine. A defender diving in an attempt to break up a pass in the end zone.
The result was unnerving.
Nickelback Kevin Johnson was at University Hospitals with a laceration of the liver, the team announced Thursday. He was resting comfortably and expected to remain in the hospital at least for one more night.
“That is very scary,” running back Kareem Hunt said. “I really do not want to talk too much about it. I just hope he is all right and doing well.”
“He is doing good, but never fun to see that or hear that,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “We are all thinking about Kevin.”
Rookie tight end Harrison Bryant made the touchdown catch Wednesday and just happened to land on Johnson. Stefanski, whose team has been hit with serious injuries to key players in the first week of training camp practices, said there was nothing strange about the play.
“No, totally normal,” he said. “Kevin was trying to make a play on Harrison. I think (defensive coordinator) Joe (Woods) and the defensive staff would have preferred that he held back instead out of an abundance of caution and not dive for it, but they kind of both dove and Harrison landed on top of him.
“Really unfortunate, unlucky. Hoping for him that he will be back when he is ready. Really the most important thing right now is that he is safe, and we want him to get well very soon.”
Stefanski said it was too early to speculate whether Johnson will be placed on injured reserve. A return this season hasn’t been ruled out, and the team should know more about a timeline in a couple of days.
Center JC Tretter had knee surgery last week, and linebacker Mack Wilson hyperextended his knee Tuesday and could need season-ending surgery. Running back Nick Chubb is also out with a concussion.
Johnson, 28, signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract as a free agent and was off to a strong start in camp. He was expected to be the No. 3 cornerback behind Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams and play in the slot in sub packages.
M.J. Stewart Jr., who was claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay on Aug. 9, was the first-team nickelback Thursday. He was a second-round pick by the Buccaneers in 2018 out of North Carolina and started six of 21 games.
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Terrance Mitchell, Donovan Olumba, Robert Jackson, Tavierre Thomas and undrafted rookie A.J. Green are also cornerbacks in the mix. Ward, Williams and Mitchell were used exclusively on the outside last season.
“The nice part of having an 80-man roster is we have a bunch of guys that we are going to try in there,” Stefanski said. “Even prior to this, we have been working a lot of guys in there. I think you will see a pretty good rotation of guys in there.”
Johnson was drafted No. 16 in 2015 by the Texans and has been slowed by a string of injuries. After playing 16 games as a rookie, he played only 19 games over the next three seasons as he dealt with a twice-broken foot, a torn medial collateral ligament and severe concussions. He played all 16 games with the Bills last year and hoped the injuries were behind him.
“It was a lot for me,” he said Monday. “It was hard for me because I have high expectations for myself.
“Through it all, I feel like it made me mentally stronger. It showed me that I am still hungry, and I still believe in myself and what I want to be as a player. It definitely shaped me. It motivates me every day to continue chasing the dream that I had when I was a little kid.”
Johnson said he still considered himself a starter and was looking forward to continuing to build his career.
“We were excited about bringing Kevin in because he is a young man but he has some really good experience playing in a couple different systems,” Stefanski said. “He was having a nice few days here. We are going to miss him here and really hope that he gets back healthy when he is ready. Really excited about his future as a Cleveland Brown.”