Browns brace for Steelers, Harrison

Published 1:18 am Thursday, December 29, 2011

BEREA (AP) — With starting quarterback Colt McCoy still shaken from the head shot heard ‘round the NFL, the Browns are getting ready for the NFL’s nastiest — and some insist dirtiest — player.

James Harrison is coming Sunday.

Buckle up.

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Harrison, his violent reputation and the chance to get revenge on the Steelers menacing linebacker were major topics of discussion in the Browns locker room Wednesday as Cleveland’s players were pressed to discuss Pittsburgh’s notorious No. 92, who laid out McCoy with an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit on Dec. 8.

Browns center Alex Mack was asked point blank if Harrison was dirty.

He paused seven seconds.

“I mean, he’s getting fined,” Mack said.

Fined for past violations, Harrison was suspended one game without pay for his vicious hit on McCoy, a devastating blow that prompted the league to change its game-day policies on head injuries after the Browns failed to test the QB for a concussion and sent him back into the game after missing just two plays.

McCoy’s season appears to have been ended by Harrison’s infamous hit. He has not yet been cleared by team doctors to practice, and it’s likely that backup Seneca Wallace will make his third straight start Sunday against the Steelers (11-4), who can still win the AFC North.

Browns coach Pat Shurmur reported McCoy is “much better” and has increased his physical activity. However, the second-year QB has not yet passed the necessary medical tests to return to the field.

And even if McCoy were allowed to play, the Browns might be inclined to have him sit out the season finale because of Harrison’s presence and the inevitable scrutiny.

Shurmur did not provide specifics on what symptoms McCoy is still experiencing.

“He needs to be medically cleared before he can practice or play and that hasn’t happened,” Shurmur said. “He’s not passing it, so whatever that means, until it’s passed he can’t play and it’s pretty cut and dry.”

McCoy has not spoken to the media since after the game in Pittsburgh nearly three weeks ago.

The QB’s orange helmet remained hanging on a hook in his locker cubicle, his shoulder pads sitting untouched on a high shelf. A bound copy of this week’s game plan against the Steelers rested on a bottom shelf not far from a recent issue of Field & Stream magazine.

McCoy’s concussion was the third sustained by a Browns player in the past two seasons on hits by Harrison, who drilled wide receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi with his helmet last season.

Massaquoi politely declined to answer any questions about Harrison.

Cribbs didn’t duck the issue. He was asked if the Browns “owe” Harrison.

“I would say so,” said Cribbs, Harrison’s college teammate at Kent State. “But we’re not going into this game thinking about getting even with him. We’re going into this game trying to win it. It’s nothing personal with him. We’d like to knock their guys out as well, but within the whistle, according to the rules.

“We just want to go into this game thinking about winning, we’re not thinking about one particular guy.”

Maybe not. But it’s impossible to ignore Harrison and the impact he has had on the Browns.

Tight end Evan Moore wouldn’t characterize Harrison as “dirty,” but acknowledged he plays on the fringes of acceptable limits.

“He plays hard, but there’s been some rules changes in the last three or four years that have changed the game and he has yet to evolve or adapt to those rules,” Moore said. “When I come off the ball, I would love to grab someone’s face mask to block them and throw them on the ground, but you can’t do it.

“They’re combative penalties. He’s playing the game. I don’t think he’s purposely out there trying to kill anybody or anything like that, but there are rules and we’ve got to play by them.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin defended Harrison during a conference call with Cleveland’s media, and described the linebacker’s helmet-to-helmet hits as “unfortunate collisions.”

Tomlin strongly disagreed that Harrison is headhunting or dirty.

“They are unfortunate plays and the circumstances around those plays and all of that has been well documented,” he said. “I base my judgment on his quality of play and the total body of work and from being around him day to day for the last five years.

“I can say comfortably that I don’t believe James Harrison is a dirty player.”

The Browns can retaliate if they choose to, but left tackle Joe Thomas said that would not be wise.

“What you’re trying to do is win, so anything that diverts from trying to win is not a good strategy,” said Thomas, selected to his fifth straight Pro Bowl this week. “Personal vendettas and things like that detract from your team having the best chance to win. We’re not going to do anything that isn’t going to try to help us win the game.”

Shurmur was asked if he would like to see his team go after Harrison.

“Do you mean start a fight? A bench-clearing brawl?” he said. “No. What I want my guys to do is play fast and physical from the snap until the whistle. We know that when you do stuff that’s beyond the whistle you end up hurting the team.”

Browns rookie Greg Little joked that he would seek revenge on Harrison as long Cleveland fans pay his fine.

“I don’t think we should go about this game with personal vendettas,” he said. “The optimal goal is to win and not to take a cheap shot on guys. If I gotta block, I’m going to go and block (Harrison). We gotta do what we gotta do to win the game.”

Mack agreed there’s only one sure way for the Browns to even the score with Harrison.

“Winning,” he said. “That would be a good team shot. I’d take that over anything else.”

Notes: McCoy gave all the offensive linemen outdoor charcoal smoker grills for Christmas. The units were delivered to the locker room. “Pretty cool,” Thomas said. “I’m really excited to put it together. I know a lot of guys are foodies on the O-line as you can tell by the bellies on a few of us.” … Along with McCoy, WR Jordan Norwood (concussion) and starting right tackle Tony Pashos (sick) did not practice. … Cribbs is the team’s nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, given for community service and playing excellence. … The Browns signed WR Owen Spencer to their practice squad.