Browns now faced with QB quandary Belichick withholds decision on starter

November 26, 1995|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- It would seem to be a no-brainer.

Vinny Testaverde had the fourth-highest quarterback rating in the AFC during the first month of the season. But he was benched for rookie Eric Zeier for four games so Zeier could light a flame under the Cleveland Browns. Instead, Zeier didn't have enough production to light a candle and went 1-3.

So Testaverde came back. He completed 16 of 22 passes for 244 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the second half of the Browns' 31-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers last week.

So Testaverde will be the starting quarterback again when the Browns (4-7) meet the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4) today at Cleveland Stadium, right?

Who knows? That decision will be made at game time.

"I expect everybody to be ready to go against Pittsburgh," said Cleveland coach Bill Belichick. "That's really about all I have to say on that."

It's just another problem in a season that has gone sour for the Browns. The team seems to be split on which quarterback should start. It's Testaverde, the veteran, against the rookie Zeier, and the players against Belichick.

It was evident that Testaverde gave the Browns a boost in leading them to 17 second-half points a week ago. It was his first action since being benched Oct. 23.

That would seem to give Testaverde the edge, but the Browns don't take anything for granted.

Also, Testaverde had to miss practice Thursday because of a sore right shoulder. He went through a light team practice Friday, and said he should be ready for today's game.

"I've learned that nothing is logical," tight end Brian Kinchen said. "You have to look at what would be logical and then look 180 degrees in the other direction.

"You want the most productive guy, and Vinny's proven himself. His quarterback rating is high and he won 12 games last year. You try to understand why the coaches do things and it doesn't always make sense. I've been through it, too. They want to try to find somebody to replace you and they go out on a limb and try to do it."

Browns linebacker Pepper Johnson seems to prefer Testaverde, too, but blasted his teammates for not playing with the same intensity when Zeier was leading the team.

"It's just not very professional," Johnson said. "Our job is to win football games, not just turn it on and off depending who is in the game."

Both quarterbacks went through the week sharing snaps with the first team, which means neither will be fully prepared. And the Browns also will have to handle hostile fans, the continued distractions of the move to Baltimore and a three-game losing streak.

"We have a lot of frustration right now, and some things are said when you want to win badly and you don't," Belichick said. "We know what we have to do to win, and we know blaming others or making excuses isn't going to help.

"We have to play the games and not get involved with all the 'what-ifs' of moving to Baltimore. I think we displayed a lot of fight against the Packers. We have to play hard the whole game, every play. If we keep fighting, good is going to happen."

BTC Despite the Browns' problems, the Steelers aren't overlooking Cleveland. Pittsburgh has won four straight, possibly peaking for another stretch run at the AFC championship. Pittsburgh lost to San Diego, 17-13, in the AFC title game last year.

"No matter what happens, they always play us hard," said Pittsburgh quarterback Neil O'Donnell. "I anticipate it being another physical, typical Cleveland-Pittsburgh game."

The Browns were swept in three games against the Steelers a year ago, and lost, 20-3, to Pittsburgh on Monday night two weeks ago.

This Pittsburgh team, though, is different from last season's. Gone are running back Barry Foster, tight end Eric Green and guard DuVall Love. All three were All-Pros, and Green and Foster combined for 58 percent of the Steelers' offensive production.

The Steelers have new stars in O'Donnell and wide receivers Yancey Thigpen (59 receptions), Charles Johnson (36) and Andre Hastings (32). But the player stirring most of the commotion in Pittsburgh is rookie Kordell Stewart.

Stewart was a quarterback in college at Colorado, but has played receiver, running back and quarterback this season. He has a 71-yard touchdown reception, he passed for another score and he has produced nine first downs -- four rushing, four receiving and one passing.

"Now I'm considered the 'Slash' guy. That's what they call me: 'Slash' -- quarterback/receiver," Stewart said. "They're putting in few things here and there to try to make the offense that much more exciting. I feel like a quarterback, but I'm doing the receiver thing

right now."

Belichick said: "He's made some big plays in the past month. They put him in some different positions, bring him in as kind of a change-of-pace guy, run a play or two and get him out of there."

Browns vs. Steelers

Site: Cleveland Stadium

Time: 4 p.m. today

TV: Channels 11, 4

Records: Browns 4-7, Steelers 7-4

Line: Steelers by 6

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