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Injury no joke but running back/return specialist Nyheim Hines expects to have last laugh

The injury was awful enough. Torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments. Months of pain and doubt. Strenuous and monotonous rehab.

The circumstances may have been worse.

Nyheim Hines took a personal watercraft to get gas during the Fourth of July holiday. He was stopped in boat traffic when a friend accidentally hit him, causing the embarrassing injury that cost him the 2023 season. Hines almost wishes he would’ve been doing something careless.

“That would’ve made it feel better,” the Browns running back/returner told The Chronicle-Telegram last week during organized team activities. “I’d rather been jumping or doing something crazy for it to happen than me really just be sitting there chilling. And I was on the Jet Ski for two minutes. I didn’t ride the Jet Ski for three days.


“So it kind of sucks how it happens, but everything happens for a reason. I’m not going to complain about it and ask why. I just know I’m going to work my butt off to get back.”

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As random as the events of the “freak accident” seem, including being hit on the right side but the ligaments in the left knee tearing, Hines takes responsibility.

“The whole situation was very weird. I just say some ‘Final Destination’ type of stuff,” he said. “I know I put myself in that position. You really just got to be accountable. So it’s my fault.”

Here and now

Hines spoke last Wednesday after an OTAs practice in which he watched and worked out on the side. He had surgery Aug. 8 and expects to practice at or near the start of training camp in July.

The uncertainty inherent with a serious injury didn’t keep the Browns from signing him to a one-year contract worth up to $3.5 million after the Bills cut him in March. Hines is convinced offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey and special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone are the reason.

“They stood on the table for me to get here,” Hines said. “I don’t know the conversations behind closed doors, but I’m sure both of them spoke about my character and how hard I work and how much of an asset I’d be to this team.”

Hines (5-foot-9, 196 pounds) was a fourth-round pick of the Colts in 2018 when Ventrone was the special teams coordinator. Hines established himself as a rushing, receiving and returning threat and was traded to the Bills during the 2022 season.

Dorsey, who was Buffalo’s coordinator, is integrating a spread passing attack with more shotgun for quarterback Deshaun Watson and choice routes for the receivers.

“Obviously in Buffalo we threw the ball,” Hines said. “He’s going to bring some of that here. I know Deshaun likes the gun and likes to spread things out, as well. Suits him really well.”

The endorsements of Dorsey and Ventrone carried major weight.

“Ken was able to give us a great picture of Nyheim, who he is as a person and a player,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “So we’re excited about his skill set. Everybody’s seen him over the years make a ton of plays.”

Hines is part of the organization’s plan to make the offense and special teams more dynamic. His best statistical year came in 2020, when he rushed 89 times for 380 yards with three touchdowns and caught 63 passes for 482 yards and four touchdowns.

He has four career return touchdowns and is frustrated some people have forgotten how large a factor he can be on offense.

“I know one of my God-given abilities is making people miss in space and that’s something I’m good at and better than most people in the NFL and I know I still got that,” he said.

Coming out the other side

Hines wasn’t always so confident he’d return from the injury. For the first three months he had serious doubts.

“I didn’t know if I was going to walk or run again, but that’s how knee surgeries go,” he said. “Not back to my same guy yet, but I know I will be. I think I’m going to come back stronger.”

He didn’t know immediately the ligaments were torn. He went to the track, sprinted, didn’t feel right and an MRI showed the damage.

“I cried like a baby,” Hines said.

The recovery took a toll. He said there weren’t any setbacks, but the knee throbbed for two months, the quadriceps took awhile to “turn on” and the flexion exercises were a bear.

“Nobody talks about how painful it is,” he said of a multiligament surgery. “It was a grind.”

That wasn’t the worst part.

“Losing what I love the most, football,” he said.

He also felt guilty about not being able to help the Bills get to the Super Bowl.

“That hurt me so much because I felt like they traded for me to help them get over the hump,” Hines said.

The negativity was magnified on social media. For months people tagged him with references to personal watercraft, including one in which Bill Belichick’s face was on the vehicle.

“It was very, very tough and even if you’re not sensitive it’ll hurt,” Hines said. “But it just motivated me. Everybody wants to make a joke on it, but the man who laughs last laughed the loudest. So at the end of the day I just want to come back and be better.”

As he dealt with an influx of mean-spirited comments from strangers, Hines noticed a steep decline in calls and texts from people he knows well.

“Honestly you learned who stands outside with you when it’s raining,” he told a group of reporters. “Everybody’s calling you and asking you for tickets one year and then you tear your ACL and nobody’s calling you and texting you no more.

“This is the hardest thing in my life and I truly believe that everything is on the other side of hard. So if I can get through this hard part, I think the best times are coming for me.”

He tightened his circle.

“It’s smaller than a period,” he said.

A fine fit

Penciling in Hines at return specialist is easy. He had two punt returns for touchdowns in 2019, two kickoff returns for TDs with the Bills in 2022 and has averaged 11.4 yards on 89 punt returns and 25.5 on 32 kickoff returns.

He spent 4½ years with Ventrone in Indianapolis.

“We did some numbers together,” Hines said. “We have the No. 1 defense in the league. I know that we’re going to get some punts, so I’m excited for that opportunity.”

The new kickoff rules were adopted to generate more returns, and Hines believes he’s built for the change to more of a scrimmage play.

“I think guys who are running backs or guys who are going to see a hole and hit it are going to be more successful to get to the second level,” he said. “I’ll see it and hit it and take what the defense gives me. So I think it’ll work out for me.”

On offense Hines will be used as a receiver out of the backfield and potentially a change-of-pace runner to Nick Chubb, Jerome Ford and D’Onta Foreman.

“I can run the ball, as well,” Hines said. “Not scared to stick my head in there.

“I guess it’s a redemption tour. In Buffalo I feel like everybody kind of forgot I could play offense, so honestly I know I can return, but I’m super, super excited to go out here, play offense and make some impact out here. I’m hungrier than I’ve ever been in my life.”

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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