David Njoku understood why he had to be sidelined for Cleveland's preseason opener.
It's only added to the excitement he has as he looks ahead to Monday, when he's poised to join the Browns offense for a primetime showdown with the New York Giants, a team he kept a close eye upon growing up in Cedar Grove, New Jersey.
Njoku missed last week's preseason opener and a handful of practices with a sore back. He returned to the practice field Sunday and has participated in three, consecutive physical practices. He's been making more plays, too, and appears to be ascending as the preparations for New York kick into gear over the next few days.
"I mean, it was hard, but it was the smart thing to do," said Njoku, who has no previous history of back injuries. "Have to make sure that I am healthy and ready to go before I go, so I agree with Coach (Hue) Jackson's choice of holding me out and you know, I will be ready to go (Monday)."
Njoku, the third of Cleveland's three 2017 first-round picks, has been at the center of some big plays in recent practices, including a long catch-and-run Tuesday and a goal-line touchdown Monday. He punctuated the latter with what's become known as the "Chief Slam," a leaping two-handed spike through his legs named after the nickname he's held for most of his life.
He was reluctant to talk more about the celebration for multiple reasons. There isn't much of a backstory to it because, well, celebrations aren't permitted at the college level. Secondly, he knows the Browns are looking for that two-handed spike to occur in places other than Berea.
"I am finally getting everything down pat," Njoku said. "So I am just going to keep working and see how far it takes me."
Browns coaches didn't sweat Njoku's up and down start to camp, knowing that the rookie might have been pressing to impress during his first few days with the full squad. At rookie minicamp, he made big play after big play but began training camp with a series of drops on the kind of plays he made routinely at the University of Miami.
Jackson wants to get the most out of Njoku, the youngest player on Cleveland's roster who is poised to have a big role in the team's passing attack.
"He has been gone for a while. You have to play. You have to be out here every day grinding. It is hard. This is a hard business," Jackson said. "He is a young man who is learning how to play. I'm asking a lot of him. He is trying, and he just has to continue to get better."