Stokes latest move only to LT for Browns

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 2, 2003

BEREA -- On his incredible journey in pro football, Barry Stokes has had to cross conferences, countries and a continent to stay employed.

His next move requires sliding only a few feet to the left.

Stokes, Cleveland's starting left guard last season, will open the season at left tackle when the Browns face the Indianapolis Colts in their opener on Sunday. Melvin Fowler will replace Stokes at guard.

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Stokes has been thrust into his new role -- and the spotlight -- because of an injury to tackle Ross Verba, out for the season after tearing his right biceps in the Browns' preseason finale last week.

For the fun-loving Stokes, the new assignment is a chance to show he belongs in the NFL. Again.

''This is a very exciting moment,'' said Stokes, who started three games at left tackle for Green Bay in 2001. ''This is proof that I can play both left guard, left tackle or wherever they put me on the line, so I'm very excited to establish myself.''

Staying in one place has always been a challenge for the 29-year-old Stokes.

Before signing with the Browns as a free agent before last season, Stokes figures he has either been claimed, waived or signed 27 times during a globe-trotting career that began in 1996 when the Detroit Lions signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Michigan.

Stokes can recite nearly every stop along the way.

''Detroit to Jacksonville to the Rhein Fire (of NFL Europe),'' he said. ''Got cut, three weeks later they brought me back and got cut again. Went to the St. Louis Rams and they cut me and they brought me back and got cut again. I went to Miami, over to Scotland (NFL Europe), come back to Miami and they cut me. They bring me back.

''Then I come back to Miami, then back to Scotland and then back to Miami. They cut me. I go to Green Bay for two weeks. I come back in three weeks, I play for five weeks. They cut me. And then I went to Oakland for one week. In the offseason, they cut me and they brought me back to Green Bay.

''I played there through the year and then after Green Bay, I came here, right?''

Stokes missed a stopover or two. But he said the experience of being passed around so often has given him a stronger appreciation for where he is now.

And it's the reason he didn't get upset when he was briefly benched this summer behind Fowler, who started one preseason game at left guard and will now be starting alongside Stokes.

Stokes has endured through persistence and a happy-go-lucky attitude that has made him one of Cleveland's most popular players. If the Browns could vote for a team clown, ''Stokesie'' would be handed the red nose and giant, floppy shoes.

''He kind of keeps the spice of life going,'' coach Butch Davis said. ''There's never a dull moment. If you want somebody to pick up the spirits of practice, he's the one to call on because there's no telling what he's going to do.''

Take last season in New Orleans for instance. During a timeout in the fourth quarter, the Superdome was shaking as rock music blared through the public address system. As the Saints crowd clapped in unison, Stokes decided he would, too.

''They're trying to get pumped up,'' he said. ''Why not join the party?''

There was also the time Stokes needed to use the men's room during a game and couldn't get off the field. So, while standing in the Browns' huddle, Stokes found relief.

''I didn't think it was a big deal,'' Stokes said. ''I couldn't go anywhere else. Everybody got a big kick out of it.''

Stokes was more serious than usual on Monday as the Browns continued preparation for the Colts. In the opener, he'll be matched up with Dwight Freeney, who had 13 sacks in just eight starts as a rookie last season.

Unflappable as ever, Stokes is sure the Browns' offensive line will be ready for the challenge. After being cut by the Rhein Fire and seven NFL teams, Stokes can handle anything.

''This is just another test,'' he said. ''It's been a great journey and the journey is definitely not over. It's just another bump in the road.''