By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Colt McCoy accomplished a lot during his college football career at Texas, and he could get a jump on an NFL career with his first start Sunday when his Cleveland Browns face the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
As far as rookie quarterbacks are concerned, there probably are much better opening opponents than the Steelers, who generally don’t treat opposing quarterbacks too well and certainly could be a nightmare for a rookie. Just ask John Elway, who was knocked silly in his debut against the Steelers.
“It doesn’t really matter who’s the quarterback, because they have Cribbs and a great running back to go to,” Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. “So, I’m sure we’re going to get a big dose of them. But we hope we’ll be able to get after the quarterback. That’s our goal every game, no matter who it is.
“But it might be a little harder for a guy who’s a rookie like McCoy, instead of a veteran guy. And I wouldn’t want to be a young guy facing this defense. We’re known for getting after quarterbacks, especially young ones, and this game should be a good test for us to do that.”
Josh Cribbs had success running against the Steelers last year, and the Browns bruising running back — Peyton Hillis — has had a solid year with a big game against the Ravens a few weeks ago. McCoy likely will hand off often to Hillis, and Cribbs probably will get some time in the Wildcat.
Steelers defensive end LaMarr Woodley is looking forward to facing Cribbs.
“I want to get after the quarterback no matter who it is,” Woodley said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a rookie or future Hall of Famer. But I’m looking forward to going against the Browns in this game for sure. McCoy is a young guy, but I watched him in college and in the preseason, and he did well.
“But going against this defense, our three-four defense, it’s got to be tough for any young player and especially for a quarterback. He hasn’t had much experience, but this will really test him to get him started in this league. And we expect to see a lot of Cribbs, running the ball from the Wildcat.
“Cribbs does a lot for them, and he was really successful against us last year,” Woodley added. “So, I would expect them to use him a lot and pound us with their big back, Hillis. It’s tough to bring down guys like with one guy, but we use a team tackling effort to get the job done. And we’ll need that this week.”
McCoy, who was taken in the third round this past spring, is expected to start because Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace have ankle injuries. The Steelers have the NFL’s top-ranked defense and also should have a loud home crowd to harass McCoy, but he doesn’t appear to be concerned.
“Obviously, going into Pittsburgh … you know, I’ve watched them play for a long time,” McCoy said. “They’ve won Super Bowls. They’ve got tremendous players (on defense). They’re physical. They’re fast. They fly to the football. I’ve got all the respect in the world for those guys, and so does everybody here.
“We know the challenge we have ahead of us. The odds are stacked against us. This isn’t the scenario our coaches wanted, but if we do what we’re supposed to do, I think we have a chance. I’m confident. I understand what we’re doing. I just have to go out there and do it.”
Not only does McCoy have to worry about the Steelers’ pass-rush, but he also must contend with a secondary led by safety Troy Polamalu.
“We’ll probably throw a lot at him, and it remains to be seen if he can handle it,” Polamalu said. “But this is a great opportunity for him to start his career, and it’s up to us to not allow him to take advantage of it. I don’t think it’ll be as easy for us as everybody thinks, but we’ll see what happens.”
Since Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich have both taken turns with the scout team this week in practice, it remains to be seen which one will be Ben Roethlisberger’s backup and which one will be the No. 3 quarterback Sunday. One thing is certain, however, as Emmanuel Sanders has replaced Antonio Brown as the club’s top kickoff returner.
That means Sanders will be in the wide receiver rotation as well and possibly return punts if Antwaan Randle El is replaced. But Mewelde Moore is a candidate for that job as well. Sanders returned kickoffs in the season-opener, but Brown took over after that and ran one back 89 yards for a touchdown Sept. 19 in a win at Tennessee.