Rod Streater donned an orange long-sleeve Browns T-shirt, brown sweatpants and a white hat as he stood in the corner of the end zone on the Browns practice fields in Berea. He glanced at his small notebook before the Browns second-team offense executed another red-zone play, an incomplete pass near the back of the end zone.
Streater, a former Browns wide receiver, was 12 days into his scouting internship with the Browns and 300 days removed from the game that forced Streater to change his plans with the Browns a bit sooner than he hoped.
If it weren’t for one special teams play in the first quarter of the Browns’ Week 6 game against the Los Angeles Chargers last season, Streater might’ve been in the drill he just watched. Instead, his role now is to scout a new position group with the Browns each week in training camp and report to Steve Malin and Dan Saganey, two of the top directors on the Browns scout team.
Streater’s content with the new job. He was always interested in becoming a scout or coach after retiring from the NFL. He just didn’t think that future would arrive so soon.
The six-year undrafted veteran has played his last snap in the NFL, but he hasn’t formally announced his retirement. Maybe that’s because he hasn’t quite grasped it as a reality yet, or maybe it’s because he’s shifted his focus toward learning everything about how to last as an NFL scout.
"I think I'm going to always miss it,” Streater said. “It doesn't seem real, but I'm done, officially."
The play looked normal at first.
Britton Colquitt punted the ball into the clear Cleveland sky. Streater dashed from the gunner position around two Chargers defenders and made a beeline to Desmond King awaiting the punt at the 10-yard line.
With about 6 yards of separation between him and Streater, King caught the punt, took a step to Streater’s right, then sprinted to his left. Streater slowed down and readied for a tackle.
Then, Streater slipped.
His head clashed off the knee of teammate Denzel Rice as he tried to torque his body at the last second and wrap his arms around King’s legs. As King ran down the field, Streater laid limp on his back behind the play. He couldn’t move.
“At that point, it just snapped,” Streater said. “I knew I was paralyzed for a couple minutes. I couldn't move my arms, my upper body. It was all tingly.”
Streater walked off the field under his own power, but X-rays revealed he broke the C3 vertebrae in his neck. His season was over even though he didn’t need surgery, and he needed to spend the next three months in a neck brace.
He couldn’t do much besides play Fortnite and watch TV to pass the time. Streater missed football, and he was hopeful he could resume his career once he made a full recovery in the offseason. If he was done, though, he didn’t have a plan for what’d be next.
Doctors advised Streater to call it quits. The consequences could be more severe than a few minutes of paralysis if Streater sustained another blow to the head. After he heard the news, his next decision was painful, but easy.
Streater had to move on from wearing the helmet and pads, but he didn’t have to wait long to launch his next career. Amid all the draft hype that surrounds NFL general managers in March, John Dorsey kept in touch with Streater and offered him the scouting internship, which could blossom into a career with the Browns or another NFL team in the future.
His answer to Dorsey?
“Let me attack this thing,” Streater said. “I always liked looking at players when they played, just like, 'Hey, I think this guy is going to make this team.' Or I see a guy in camp that makes me go, 'Hey, he has the skills, and I think he's going to make it.’”
Streater thought the transition would be easy. His life was still going to revolve around football, too, and that was the best part.
So far, Streater has enjoyed every part of his new gig. One week, he’ll be in charge of watching the Browns’ linebackers. The next week, he’ll scout the defensive backs.
He’s only been in the internship for three weeks, but Streater already knows where he wants to scout next: home.
Streater’s dream job is to remain a scout in New Jersey, where he was born and where most of his family live, or anywhere along the east coast that will make it easy for him to see family.
No matter what happens, Streater will keep his positive attitude. He never lost that when he was stuck on the couch with a brace, wondering what might be next if he had to give up football because of one fluky play.
“Rod is the type of person who always tries to stay positive no matter what the situation is,” said Tina Streater, Rod’s wife. “Everyone was heartbroken over the injury, but he didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him especially when he didn’t feel sorry for himself.”
Streater has no regrets on his retirement, and he feels lucky to have made a full recovery from an injury that could have impacted him in ways much larger than a faster decision on retirement.
He’ll always miss the rush of playing the game, and he still finds himself observing the quickness of a receiver’s release or how precise they run their route even when he’s scouting other positions.
There’s no reason for Streater to look back, though. He’s started a new chapter now.
“Things happen for a reason,” Streater said. “I miss it a lot, but being out there on the practice field fills that void.”