Cleveland Browns QBs Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy, RB Trent Richardson all ruled out with injuries; Thad Lewis to start at QB
Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis will make his first NFL start on Sunday for the Cleveland Browns.
(Photo by Rick Osentoski, Associated Press)
By Mary Kay Cabot, The Plain Dealer
on December 28, 2012
BEREA, Ohio -- Browns quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy have been ruled out of Sunday's season finale in Pittsburgh with sprained right shoulders, and third-teamer Thad Lewis will make his first NFL start.
Running back Trent Richardson is also out because of a sprained left ankle. Richardson, who broke Jim Brown's team rookie rushing record (942 yards in 1957), finishes the season with 950 yards on the ground. Montario Hardesty, who is averaging a team-high 4.6 yards per rush, will make his first start of the season.
Lewis will be the 18th quarterback to start a game for the Browns since 1999, which ties the Dolphins for the league high in that span, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
"It's exciting," said Lewis, who was signed Monday off of the Browns' practice squad. "Once you get the official word that you're starting, it's a blessing for a childhood dream come true. It's an opportunity, and you have to go out and make the best of it."
Lewis will face the Steelers' No. 1 ranked defense, which is No. 2 against the run and No. 1 against the pass.
Last week, in a 13-10 loss to the Bengals, the Steelers sacked Andy Dalton six times and produced three takeaways -- two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
"Part of my childhood dream was to be a starter one day in the NFL," said Lewis, who was signed by the Rams as an undrafted rookie out of Duke in 2010. "Who it was against, I didn't have a visual of that. But it's a challenge, and if you don't like challenges, then you're in the wrong sport. It's a great challenge for this offense to go against the No. 1 defense and try to be successful."
The reps Lewis has received in practice this week were the first for him since training camp. He made the team out of camp, but was waived after five weeks and re-signed to the practice squad, where he practiced at different positions on the scout team.
"This week has been great," said Lewis, who was coached by Browns coach Pat Shurmur in St. Louis when Shurmur was the offensive coordinator. "I wouldn't call it thrown into the fire, I'd just say it's an opportunity to display what you can do. I've been here the whole 17 weeks, and it's been the same playbook through camp and I've had an opportunity to rep plays that I take mental reps on every week."
Shurmur has been impressed with Lewis' command of the offense during practice this week.
"He's done great," Shurmur said. "He's been preparing himself to play all year, even though he wasn't on the active roster. We anticipate, and what we expect is that he goes out and plays winning football."
Shurmur said he won't reduce the playbook for Lewis, who has been schooled in Shurmur's offense longer than Weeden and McCoy. If Lewis can't finish the game, newly signed Josh Johnson, a fifth-year pro, will replace him. Johnson, a fifth-round pick of the Bucs out of the University of San Diego, spent four seasons in Tampa Bay and one in San Francisco.
Lewis said he won't be overly concerned with Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who has knocked out three Browns with concussions the past two seasons: McCoy, Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi.
"No, not at all," said Lewis. "You've got on pads. You've got on a helmet and shoulder pads and if a guy is going to hit you or if you get hit, that's what the pads [are] for, to protect you. You've got to be tough at the quarterback position, you've got to get up, shake it off and move on to the next play."
He will be aware, however, of Steelers Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu, who sat out the first meeting in November with an injury.
"He's not going to be the typical guy," said Lewis. "He's going to be the rule-breaker. You have a certain coverage. You think a guy should be there. Troy's supposed to be in two-man, he'll come down and take your [crossing routes]. You have to keep an eye on 43."
Hardesty, who has made only four career starts, gets the chance in Pittsburgh he's waited for all season. Brandon Jackson, who has been inactive most of the season, will be active for the first time since the opener.
"I still feel like there's a lot of stuff that I haven't shown yet in the NFL that I want to show," Hardesty said. "I'm just excited about playing more and getting an opportunity to show what I can do on the field."
Last week, the Steelers held the Bengals to 14 yards on 16 carries.
"I think now you're seeing the explosive Montario Hardesty," said running backs coach Gary Brown. "You're seeing the guy that can make people miss. He has the burst, he has all those things when he was coming out of Tennessee that we liked. So now it's his turn to put on a display as a starter, and I anticipate he's going to play well. I'm excited for him."