When Drew Forbes planned a trip with his wife, Emily, to visit her family's farm back in their home state of Missouri in the spring of 2020, they didn't expect to be out of Cleveland for longer than a week.
Forbes, a sixth-round pick for the Browns in 2019, was visiting his in-laws before preparing for his second NFL season as an offensive lineman. After missing nine games with a knee injury and returning to play two games his rookie season, Forbes had bigger plans ahead for 2020 — his versatility at both the tackle and guard positions made him a viable depth piece, and he was even a possible candidate for the starting right guard job once competition could commence in training camp.
But before his offseason work, he planned to take a trip to the family farm, where he could help pitch in with some daily tasks on the farm — driving tractors, hauling hay bales and assisting in the everyday needs of the family's livestock.
The trip was only supposed to last seven days.
"We only brought one little suitcase each of clothes," Forbes said in an interview.
"Then COVID hit."
Forbes' stay in Missouri lasted for the next five months. During the end of the prolonged trip, he made the difficult decision to opt out of the 2020 season and avoid any risk of contracting COVID-19.
Forbes was one of five Browns players who chose to forgo the season, and while he certainly missed being a part of the action for Cleveland's trip to the playoffs, he believes his time away from football will help him feel as refreshed as ever when he can finally strap on pads and a helmet.
"It's been a bit of a blessing in disguise," he said. "I would much rather have the opportunity right now to go back and play some ball, but just given the situation, we made the most of it, and I'm happy where we're at."
So what did Forbes do in his spare time? The answer is loaded with a combination of activities related to farm life, outdoor workouts and keeping up with the Browns.
After the extended stay with his in-laws, Forbes and his wife purchased their own farm in Missouri, where he continued the same farming tasks he enjoyed at the beginning of quarantine. His main source of physical exertion became hauling hay bales, which weighed between 30 and 80 pounds and needed to be hauled onto tractors to be shipped to neighbors. Forbes and his wife have moved hundreds of them since they purchased their own property, and the heavy lifting has provided Forbes just as strenuous of a workout as he'd receive in the weight room.
"I'll tell you right now, that definitely gets you into football shape," he said. "It's probably the most labor-intensive part of farming."
In non-farming activities, Forbes has built an outdoor weight-lifting area on his property and has made daily usage of a mile-long loop he mapped around their farm. Missouri is also full of state parks, and he's frequently taken advantage of the open land on 13-mile bike rides through the woods.
For Forbes, the one key element of keeping a fit body and clear mind can be traced to one life ingredient: staying outdoors.
"We have plenty of opportunities to work out in the area we're in," he said. "We're just immersed in nature. My wife and I, we've loved just getting to sit and look out the backdoor and be immersed in nature. It's been a really healthy thing for both of us."
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Forbes did everything possible to keep up with the Browns, too. He watched every game — his favorite moment was when fellow offensive tackle teammate Kendall Lamm caught a touchdown in Week 13 against the Titans — and cherished the time he spent with his family, who became Browns fans once Forbes joined the team but primarily live in Kansas City Chiefs territory.
That made the AFC Divisional Playoff Game a bit more memorable for the Forbes family.
"It was fantastic to see (the Browns) play at that high of a stage and make it that far," he said. "I felt the excitement, the anxiety. I just loved it. I was so excited for that group of men to go out there and get to play another game."
One of the biggest reasons for the Browns' success was their offensive line, which benefited from consistent play from its starters to open the season and continued to excel when injuries hit the group. Depth players such as Chris Hubbard, Nick Harris and Lamm were superb at stepping in on short notice, while Michael Dunn and Blake Hance, two linemen who combined for just one game of experience before the season, will always be remembered for rising to the occasion in the Browns' Wild Card win over the Steelers.
The future of the group should still be strong in 2021 — the Browns will return all of their starters from the offensive line next season, but there's still plenty of chances for players to secure backup roles.
Forbes can't wait for his chance to be a part of it.
"It was art, honestly, in the form of that offensive line," he said. "I loved watching those guys. That whole room is just a bunch of athletic individuals who can move laterally and get up the field. For me, I just feel like my lateral mobility and athleticism is a staple of what you need (in their schemes)."
When Forbes returns to training camp in July, he's confident that his farm work, additional time outdoors and chances to enjoy a life away from a football field will have him in-shape and ready to get back in the game. He proved in 2019 he was up for any challenge necessary to carve a role on the offensive line, and now he'll have a chance to do it again with a proven, established unit that still needs to solidify its depth.
After an unexpected year away, Forbes is ready to go all in.
"I love this opportunity the team gave me," he said. "I can't wait to come back and just show them they made a great decision in bringing me into this organization. I can't wait to get back to football."