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Seeing Steelers again in primetime brings out emotions in Anthony Walker Jr.: ‘This is a big one for me’

PITTSBURGH — Anthony Walker Jr. sent a preemptive text to the rest of the linebackers at the beginning of last week. He didn’t want them worrying when he got emotional while preparing to play Pittsburgh.

The melancholy was caused by a confluence of events and a near-anniversary. Walker’s quadriceps tendon tore in primetime against the Steelers on Sept. 22. The Browns play the Steelers on Monday night almost a year to the day.

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“I’m always this happy-go-lucky person in the locker room, but I told them I may be a little sad and have my moments as we’re watching tape and as we’re getting ready for the game where I’m not myself,” Walker told The Chronicle-Telegram of the group text. “It means a little bit more to me this week. And I know those guys got my back.


“So just wanted to let those guys know that I appreciated them helping me get back and that this is a big one for me. I really want to get it done.”

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Walker, 28, wanted people in Pittsburgh to know he doesn’t hold animosity toward the Steelers. The tendon had already torn when tackle Chukwuma Okorafor jumped on him as he lay on the field.

“They thought I thought it was a dirty play. And I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no, no,’” Walker said, referring to something he saw in the Pittsburgh media. “When I say it was emotional for me, there were times that I didn’t think I would play the game again. The rehab was a lot, too much for me some days, and I really thought about not playing again. So to be able to get through and get to this point again where I can play, where I can be on the field helping my team and I’m playing the team that I got hurt against, it’s a night game again.

“So I didn’t want anybody thinking that I thought that was a dirty play. I got hurt on my own accord. That was a bad step by me. He did his job, he finished the play. It happens. But surreal for me because obviously the time, the opponent.”

Browns linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. is checked by medical personnel after a quadriceps tendon tore Sept. 22 vs. the Steelers in Cleveland.

When Walker said “bad step,” he didn’t mean he did anything wrong. Just rotten luck.

“You make a normal cut that I made 10,000 times in my life,” he said. “It was just a freak accident.”

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The injury shook Walker to the core. He’d never had surgery and wasn’t used to the rehab process that’s taxing physically and mentally.

“That was the most pain I had ever been in in my life,” he said. “There were days I was trying to ride a bike and I couldn’t pedal all the way through. And Nick Chubb was like, ‘Dude, you’re going to be able to do it. This is the first step of your rehab, but you’re going to be able to do it.’ And then a week later I’m doing it and first person I called, ‘Nick, I did it.’

“So it’s just those days, man, that you can’t account for. I’ve been playing since I was 4 years old and never went through anything like that. So just to go through that, that’s what makes this moment, this game mean a little bit more to me.”

Walker means so much to the linebackers, defense and team. He was voted a captain for the second straight year and made it back to start the opening win vs. the Bengals, playing 33 of 55 snaps. He had a tackle and helped pressure quarterback Joe Burrow as a blitzer.

“Just a leader,” linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah said. “He knows how to communicate with guys, knows personality, knows when not to speak, when to speak and doesn’t do too much when it doesn’t require him to do so. That takes a special being to have that emotional intelligence, and that’s what he does for us.”

The Browns missed Walker as a player last year but more so as a leader in the locker room and in the huddle.

“It speaks for itself that he’s one of our captains,” new coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He’s an experienced player. He’s super smart, understands situations. He’s a really good communicator, makes life easy for the other guys around him. I’m going to run out of time saying nice things about him.”

Walker thought he was off to a strong start last season and in the 29-17 win over Pittsburgh and believed he had put himself “in position to really help our team win and for us to make a run.” Instead, his season was over and the Browns slid to 7-10.

He doesn’t have a problem turning on the tape of that night … but can only keep it on so long.

“I watch the game all the time,” he said. “I was actually making a lot of plays, so it’s not hard to watch it. But I watch it, I watch the plays, I watch everything, the whole flow of the game and then, boom, I get hurt and I can’t even watch no more.

“It was a test of my faith, a test of my will, how strong-minded I was. And the rehab was the same thing. I’m better from it and I’m better from the injury. I learned from it and I believe I’m a better player from it.”

Owusu-Koramoah has watched Walker process the pain and the joy of making it back.

“Emotion has to manifest itself at some point, so his emotion has manifested itself in leadership and taking nothing for granted,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “He was doing that before but, of course, when you go through an experience, especially a traumatic one, the work intensifies. So for him, that’s really what he’s been exemplifying.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.


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