Thursday, October 14, 2010

Way too early

History has a way of repeating itself. And we're about to witness it again this Sunday in Pittsburgh. It won't be pretty.

When Colt McCoy steps under center for the Browns against the Steelers, one can only imagine the disaster that awaits. It puts me in mind of what took place on the second weekend of the National Football League season in 1999.

After Ty Detmer flamed out in the inaugural season opener against the Steelers, coach Chris Palmer figured he had nothing to lose when he placed Tim Couch in charge of the offense when it was obvious he wasn't nearly ready. It contributed to what eventually became a less-than-mediocre career.

It all but destroyed what might have been something a whole lot better. Instead of sticking with the veteran Detmer and taking his lumps, Palmer instead threw caution out the window and placed a raw rookie where he shouldn't have been placed.

And now, more than a decade later, a Browns head coach is about to make the same mistake. Granted the circumstances are different, but the results most likely will turn out the same.

With Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace nursing severe ankle injuries, most fans believe McCoy would be the most logical choice to start Sunday. After all, the rookie is the No. 3 quarterback. Why not?

Besides, a lot of fans want to see just what the highly-acclaimed college quarterback can do with the big boys. Let's see what he brings to the table.

Only one problem. Not only is McCoy not nearly ready, what happens Sunday could have a disastrous effect on the rest of his NFL career. Remember Tim Couch.

In the Steelers, he's facing the nastiest defense in the league. It's not even close, although Ravens and Jets fans might disagree. It is bellicose to the extreme. It makes great quarterbacks look less than normal. It makes good quarterbacks look awful. And it makes mediocre quarterbacks look . . . well you get the message. Rookie quarterbacks? Oy!

Obviously, Eric Mangini doesn't see it that way.

Unless the Browns come out with a massive dose of the Wildcat against the Steelers with Joshua Cribbs as the trigger, Mangini feels comfortable placing his young quarterback on the hottest of seats.

If I'm Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, I'm placing no fewer than nine men in the box on every play. I'm shutting down the Cleveland running game and daring McCoy to beat me with his arm.

That's not going to happen with McCoy, who has the weakest arm among the quarterbacks and arguably the weakest receivers corps in the league with which to work. James Harrison, Troy Polamalu & Co. have to be literally frothing at the very thought of facing this not-nearly-ready-for-primetime quarterback.

Why Mangini did not even consider Brett Ratliff for the start is puzzling. The normal rationale is that McCoy has been with the team all season and Ratliff was on another team's practice squad until the ankle woes hit the club.

That might be the case, but don't forget that Ratliff, who was with the Browns during training camp, is just as familiar with the Browns' offense, having been the club's third quarterback last season. Unless he has had severe problems with his memory in the last couple of months, he shouldn't have trouble picking up the offense.

If there is going to be a sacrificial lamb for the next three games -- against the Steelers, New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots -- before the bye, it should be Ratliff. He's been around a lot longer than McCoy and has a lot less to lose.

If he starts, McCoy will see a game played with more speed and quickness than he has ever witnessed. Mistakes will come quickly and often. Unless he's more remarkable than any of us imagined, what eventuates Sunday in Pittsburgh could have career-threatening results.

Mike Holmgren has all but stated did not want to see McCoy this season. He wanted the youngster to learn on the sideline. Of course, he had no idea his quarterbacks had weak ankles.

If he's smart, Holmgren will let his coach know that starting McCoy will be a mistake and that Ratliff is the better choice.

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