Browns safety: Juan Thornhill opens up about ‘frustrating’ first season in Cleveland due to nagging injury

Cleveland Browns safety Juan Thornhill battled a calf injury that hindered his production in 2023. John Kuntz, cleveland.com

 

 

That’s because no one is more frustrated than the Browns safety himself.

 

“I know some people might’ve been disappointed with my play this year, but me, it’s fine,” he said. “I didn’t play to my standard. I know I’m so much better as a player than what I showed this year, but I’m excited about it.”

 

 

Thornhill was one of Cleveland’s biggest offseason acquisitions last spring, signing a three-year, $21 million deal after spending thef irst four years of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs and winning two Super Bowls. He was one of the most vocal players when it came to the team’s Super Bowl aspirations, and the expectations for the Cleveland defense.

 

However, one day after the season came to an end in Cleveland’s 45-14 wild card loss to the Houston Texans, Thornhill reflected on how frustrating the season was for him individually due a nagging calf strain that hampered him from Week 4 against the Ravens on.

 

The safety missed five total games over Cleveland’s last eight due to reaggravating the strain. He also missed Cleveland’s opener against the Bengals with a different calf injury, so six games in total.

 

“I came back too fast,” Thornhill said. “It was a grade-two strain, so to really look at a grade-two strain takes a month, a month and a half to actually fully heal. But I didn’t have that time to let it heal, so I kept trying to come back and get back on the field, but every time I got out there, I was just reaggravating it, straining it over and over again.

 

 

“It just seemed like I was just hurt all the time, but it was just one injury that was just lingering the whole season.”

 

Thornhill ended the year with 54 tackles, two quarterback hits, three total pressures and one pass defensed.

 

This was the first time Thornhill had dealt with a nagging injury of this kind in his career. In 2019, he tore his ACL and missed the Chiefs’ run to the Super Bowl, sitting out their three playoff games, but made it back in 2020 without it really impacting him any further.

 

His frustration over the calf injury caused him to take to X, formerly known as Twitter, in the hours after Cleveland’s loss on Saturday.

 

“One of my most frustrating years of football!” he posted. “Trying to play through injury all season and not being able to give the City the best version of myself. I know it didn’t end the way we wanted but Cleveland We will be back!! (peace sign emoji, heart hands emoji)”

 

Through the frustration, Thornhill is already planning how to spend this offseason differently to try and avoid a similar fate in 2024.

 

“Get more flexible, just work on speed and things like that,” he said. “But I’m excited. This will– next year will be so much better for me. I could promise that, I’m going to keep saying it over and over again.”

 

The frustrations also go beyond just his own injuries this season — there’s also a sense of unfinished business.

 

Cleveland’s defense was revamped under coordinator Jim Schwartz, and the Browns ended the regular season as the top unit in the NFL (270.2 yards per game) and also finished with the No. 1 pass defense (164.7 yards per game), and the best third-down defense (29.1%). The 280 passing yards they gave up to the Texans in the wild card matchup was their second-worst individual mark of the year.

 

And then there was just the sheer number of injuries the Browns had to overcome. Cleveland ended the year with 13 players on injured reserve, nine starters. At safety alone, the Browns lost Rodney McLeod (biceps) and Grant Delpit (groin) for the year, along with Thornhill being in and out of the lineup.

 

“This team, guys worked their a—- off all year,” Thornhill said. “It sucks that we didn’t get to get to the top game, but I feel like guys will be back next year really hungry because guys have that experience now. Guys (have) been in the playoffs and played at the top level. So guys definitely will be back and ready to go.”

 

After a loss like the one to the Texans, it’s hard to find the silver lining in the immediate aftermath.

 

But for Thornhill, who promised to keep speaking into existence his Super Bowl aspirations, he was already talking about this as a building-block year, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

 

“Year one, and we were the best defense,” he said. “Usually it takes time for guys to get used to playing next to one another, but it seemed like we just clicked right away. So just imagine us coming back next season with a year under our belt with coach Schwartz. It’s going to be scary for these opponents.

 

 

Gideon Canice

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