CLEVELAND — Maurice Hurst II’s first season with the Browns ended early with a torn pectoral but he still enjoyed his time so much he’d like to return. He signed a one-year, $1.24 million contract last offseason and is scheduled to be a free agent again in March.
“It’s definitely a special spot,” the defensive tackle said Tuesday night at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards. “I’ve been lucky to be at a few great spots. So being here with the guys that we have in the room and the coaches that we have, it’s really something that you can tell that we’re building, that we could be the team that wins it all at some point.”
Hurst, 28, proved he could still play after missing all of 2022 with a torn biceps and all but two games in 2021 due to ankle and calf injuries. In 13 games off the bench for the Browns, he had 22 tackles, four for loss, 1.5 sacks, five quarterback hits, an interception, a fumble recovery and three passes defensed. He was a valuable piece of the tackle rotation for the No. 1-ranked defense.
“Mo was excellent, not just the acrobatic (interception) that he was able to make in the Seattle game, but he really embodied what we wanted in an attack front throughout the entire year,” general manager Andrew Berry said. “Mo’s a big personality, he’s great for the locker room, he really jelled with the group, so we couldn’t be more pleased with the season that he had.”
Berry has time to finalize a plan for free agency but said Hurst “absolutely” could return next season.
Hurst said the rehabilitation from the torn pectoral is going well and he expects to be back to football activities in the spring. He was injured Dec. 10 in a win over the Jaguars and had surgery.
“It’s a very simple recovery,” he said. “It’s definitely a quick timetable. I have Wolverine blood.”
The University of Michigan alum has a simple reason for wanting to return to the field.
“I just generally love the game of football,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve always had a passion for since I was a kid and I’ve always wanted to be the best.
“Football is amazing. It’s something that I want to do once I’m done playing and something that is always going to be a special part of my life.”
Hurst plans to work in a front office when his playing career is over.
Despite missing most of the last two seasons, he didn’t view the torn pectoral as a cruel twist of fate.
“I feel like I’ve faced so much adversity throughout my career that it’s something that I’m able to just kind of stay the course,” he said. “It never registered in my mind that I wouldn’t be able to recover from it.”
BEST OF THE BEST
Browns All-Pro and Pro Bowl defensive end Myles Garrett won the award as Professional Athlete of the Year, beating out Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell and Guardians first baseman Josh Naylor.
Garrett led the team with 14 sacks, finishing tied for seventh in the league, and added 30 quarterback hits, 17 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. He’s a favorite to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the first time.
Garrett wasn’t in attendance but sent a video in which he called the award an “honor” and said he doesn’t take it for granted.
“The city of Cleveland has adopted me and accepted me, and there’s a whole lot of very deserving athletes all over the city of Cleveland and across all sports, and I couldn’t do it without the help of my teammates,” he said. “Thank you to the city of Cleveland and let’s continue to make this a special year with all sports going around.”
Berry accepted the award for Garrett and made the case for Garrett to win DPOY.
“I don’t think there’s a defender in the NFL that has the snap-to-snap impact that Myles does,” Berry said. “Run game, pass game, you name it. He totally dictates an offense’s protections and game plans because he really is a game-wrecker if you leave him one-on-one.”
STAY … A LITTLE BIT LONGER
Browns Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio doesn’t want to see veteran line coach Bill Callahan leave.
He knows it’s possible after Callahan’s son, Brian, was hired as coach of the Titans.
“Coach Callahan’s been instrumental for us,” Bitonio said. “He’s helped develop a bunch of us on the line. We’re thankful for that. He’s one of the hardest workers. I know he puts in the time with us and he’s a big part of the run game with the schemes and the protections.
“But if your son calls, you might need to take that phone call. That’s pretty special stuff. So we understand either way and we’re hopeful he’s still around for us to help us next year.”
Bitonio accepted the award for the playoff-clinching win over the Jets being named 2023 Best Moment in Cleveland Sports.
Bitonio was surprised to see the departure of offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, who won’t return after refusing a reassignment. Running backs coach Stump Mitchell was fired and tight ends coach T.C. McCartney wasn’t retained in the days following the playoff loss to the Texans on Jan. 13.
“I loved AVP,” Bitonio said. “He was a great guy and did a lot of good things for us. I know him and Coach Stefanski and really the whole staff does a great job of getting guys in the right place. I knew nothing about it until I saw it on Twitter like everybody else, so it’s always a little bit of a surprise.
“I think Coach Stefanski just wants to continue to tweak things. He did some things on defense last year and some things on offense now this year and special teams as well last year. But I have nothing but good things to say about AVP. He was a great dude. He truly embodied that play for your brother attitude with us and you never want to see guys leave.”
Right tackle Dawand Jones, a fourth-round pick out of Ohio State, was voted to the NFL All-Rookie team by the Pro Football Writers of America.
** Texans quarterbacks coach Jerrod Johnson interviewed in Berea for Cleveland’s offensive coordinator job. He joined Seahawks offensive line coach Andy Dickerson and fired Bills coordinator Ken Dorsey as known candidates having interviewed for the job.
** Van Pelt is scheduled to interview to be coordinator for the Raiders.