Cleveland Browns wide receiver Ricardo Louis’ debut season in the NFL didn’t follow an identical script to his freshman year at Auburn but shared all the wrong kind of similarities.
The Browns rotated through quarterbacks — five in total — as they flirted with becoming only the second team in NFL history to go 0-16 (2008 Detroit Lions).
Cleveland’s struggles reminded Louis of what Auburn went through in 2012, two years removed from winning a national title.
Auburn finished 3-9 with a 0-8 record in the SEC and had a similar revolving door at quarterback.
While Louis was a bit player for Auburn as a freshman playing mostly on special teams, the experience left a lasting impression.
“It taught me how to handle adversity,” Louis said. “I was in many different situations from freshman to senior year. It was a different situation every season — the quarterbacks, winning, losing and stuff like that — but that helped me always find a way to overcome.”
Louis remembered the challenges Auburn faced as Cleveland lost 14 in a row including four one-possession games.
“During the season, we had adversity all year,” Louis said. “I never let it affect me at all. I never let it get to me. I didn’t worry about the record, I worried about getting the opportunity to get better.”
Louis’ resilient attitude helped him overcome a preseason hamstring injury that forced him to miss crucial practice time.
While the injury made Louis an unlikely candidate to get early playing time, coaches didn’t hesitate to hand the fourth-round pick a major role on special teams. Louis also found himself getting an increasing number of snaps at wide receiver when injuries thinned out the depth chart.
Louis ended up playing all 16 regular season games – three starts – with 18 catches for 205 yards.
“I stayed focus and learned the playbook, it allowed me to be prepared when my number was called,” Louis said. “My mindset was to listen to everything the coaches told me to do.”
Louis described the season as a “rollercoaster,” but one he sees heading in the right direction thanks in part to an emotional 20-17 win over the San Diego Chargers. It helps that Louis has witnessed a quick worst-to-first turnaround before.
“I think our team deserved it, we’ve been through a lot, worked hard,” Louis said. “Things didn’t fall our way the whole season up until that point. I feel like next season we are going to take it to another level.
“We know what we have to do.”
Welcome to the big leagues
Cleveland Browns quarterback Kevin Hogan sailed a throw intended for Louis right into the arms of Cincinnati Bengals safety Shawn Williams during the rivals’ first meeting of the season in October.
Williams dropped to the ground for the interception at midfield with an open field in front of him. The former Georgia defender popped up intent on turning the turnover into six points.
It didn’t work quite work out thanks to Louis, who forced a fumble in the process of whipping Williams down to the ground.
Louis all but forgot about the play as the teams prepared to meet again in December. The memory resurfaced, with an assist from Williams.
“I’d been killing teams all year at gunner — they had to double-team me every game to stop me,” Louis said. “The Bengals decided to triple-team me. They had two people on top of me and a third person coming over top to take me out of the play (Williams).”
Louis didn’t see Williams behind the line of scrimmage, resulting in the biggest hit of the wide receiver’s freshman campaign.
“I didn’t see him coming, and he boomed me,” Louis said laughing. “Never happened again, though.”