Curtis Weaver winced as he limped off the grass fields at the Miami Dolphins practice facility, unsure how his foot would look when he removed his cleat in the training room.
Weaver, the Dolphins' fifth-round rookie defensive end, was just beginning his second week of full-contact training camp practices when he felt his toe snap. He initiated a block in the second to last rep of practice, felt the crack and finished the next play — only to feel even more pain as the final whistle blew.
Weaver completed the agonizing trek to the training room, removed his shoe and looked down at the damage.
His toe hung from his foot like an ornament on a Christmas tree.
"It just felt nasty," Weaver said. "The toe got caught under me and it just bent all the way back, as if someone broke your finger and snapped it all the way back."
His next stop was a trip to the hospital, where he learned his rookie season was over. But more bad news arrived a few hours later as Weaver was still sitting on the hospital bed.
The Dolphins were cutting him with a waived/injured designation. Any team could claim him, and his NFL future, one that seemed so bright four months earlier when he was drafted, was taking a major blow.
"Some people get hit with an obstacle in the beginning of the career or later in their career," he said. "(I realized) mine was happening right now."
Weaver didn't have to wait long, though, to find his next NFL home: Cleveland.
The Browns placed a claim on him and planned to stash him on Injured Reserve for the rest of the season. Their hope was for Weaver to make a full recovery and be in position to compete for a potential roster spot in 2021.
Weaver, upset that his first NFL opportunity had already ended, received the news one day after his injury and waiver designation. The call with his agent was brief.
"We're going to Cleveland," his agent said.
Weaver: "Let's work."
The Browns' belief in Weaver still appears to be strong eight months after the transaction. Even though they bolstered the position with three-time Pro Bowler Jadeveon Clowney and 2017 first-round pick Takkarist McKinley in free agency, the Browns were content with not using a pick on a defensive end in the 2021 draft, where many analysts and mock draft experts believed they'd use an early pick to add to the group.
That didn't happen, which makes Weaver one of a handful of defensive ends vying for roles behind Myles Garrett, Clowney and McKinley.
Weaver can't wait for the competition to begin.
"I'm thinking about it every day," he said. "I'm just fiending to get back, but at this level, you just have to be patient."
The Browns' belief in Weaver stems from his illustrious college career at Boise State, where he set the Mountain West Conference record with 34 sacks in three seasons and was named a First Team All-American player in 2020.
He faced a steep jump in competition going from a Group of 5 conference to the NFL level, but many analysts believed Weaver had the traits necessary to be an early-to-mid round draft pick and carve an NFL future. He was the 77th prospect listed on Daniel Jeremiah's top 150 prospects of the 2020 class, and The Athletic's Dane Brugler placed a second- or third-round grade on him in The Beast.
"Weaver isn't a top-tier athlete and his limitations will be more noticeable vs. NFL competition," Brugler wrote, "but he is a motivated rusher with the active hands and power to grind away at the corner, projecting as an NFL starter in the right situation."
Yet when Day 2 ended, Weaver's name was still on the board. The Dolphins ended his slide at pick No. 164, a draft position that usually guarantees at least one season with the franchise, but Weaver was a rare exception — only Weaver and kicker Justin Rohrwasser, drafted 159th overall by the Patriots, were 2020 fifth-rounders to be cut from their teams.
"It's all fuel to the fire," Weaver said. "I'm glad Cleveland gave me the opportunity, and I'm just ready to work."
Weaver won't be unfamiliar with most of his teammates when he can finally return to the field. He spent the entire 2020 season in Cleveland and completed most of his rehab work inside the team facility, where he bonded with 2020 second-round pick Grant Delpit, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury one day before Weaver's injury, and the other rookies that shared a locker room together.
Away from the field, Weaver connected with the group over games of Call of Duty: Warzone, the battle royale video game.
"Me and Jedrick Wills will take over anybody in the NFL in two-versus-two in Warzone," Weaver said with a laugh. "You can write that down."
Games aside, Weaver is putting his focus on proving himself in the fall when he can finally wear a Browns helmet and take real snaps. He had never suffered a serious injury or missed a football game before 2020, and he's spent the last three months working to regain the strength lost from a year without football at a training facility in Arizona.
"There's no more restrictions on me," he said. "We're getting that power back in the toe. It's fully healed, and now we're just getting it back to normal."
Weaver knows he'll need a strong start in training camp to prove the Browns made the right decision. No one knows how many edge rushers the Browns will look to keep on their roster for 2021, but the position is normally limited to four or five players.
Three of those spots appear locked for Garrett, Clowney and McKinley, so there could just be one or two spots left among Weaver, Porter Gustin, Cameron Malveaux, Joe Jackson and undrafted free agent Romeo McKnight.
The Browns, however, believe Weaver can make a strong case.
"It's exciting," said defensive line coach Chris Kiffin. "He bought in, and we all saw the change. Word spread around the building like, 'Man, this guy might be something.' He's been fun. We've had him in the meeting rooms all year long and he's a good personality. We're anxious as can be to get him out there and see what he can do."
The injury obstacle for Weaver has been cleared, and it's up to him to advance past his next hurdle — secure a spot on an NFL roster.
His window to complete that goal expanded last weekend when the Browns steered clear of drafting another defensive end and adding another player to the competition. That should set the stage for Weaver to receive plenty of reps and prove he was a better player than what showed last year in Miami.
Now in Cleveland, Weaver doesn't plan to let another chance slip.
"I feel like I'm gonna be on a roll," he said. "I'm ready to hit the road running."
Check out the best photos of the draft in Cleveland by the Browns photo team