BEREA - Every year it seems that there's a player or two who surprises the Browns. There's always the emergence of a player or two that is a highly drafted player or a highly priced free agent. But scouts careers are made on the Joshua Cribbs' and Leigh Boddens'.
The Browns are hoping that this year's diamond in the rough is Brandon McDonald.
Even though McDonald was drafted, fifth-round picks aren't usually counted upon to make significant contributions, especially in their rookie season.
"I expected to come right in and help this team," McDonald said. "My confidence level is very high and I felt I could play here."
Just four years ago the Browns were able to find Bodden, an undrafted rookie free agent from Duquesne. He has developed into a solid starting cornerback. Cribbs joined the team as an undrafted free agent from Kent State three years ago and he could be headed to the Pro Bowl.
McDonald has started to emerge as a find from this year's rookie crop. He was able to see extended playing time against the Texans due to an injury to Eric Wright.
"Brandon McDonald played well the other day," Phil Savage said. "I don't know if that came as a surprise to us, because we've seen that in practice and the coaches have said he has some good qualities. A lot of times it comes down to opportunity and making the most of it."
Savage knows the importance of hitting on the second day draft choices.
"It's important to hit on second day picks, but the percentages aren't that high," Savage said. "You can't measure how important those are."
McDonald has been a solid special team player and with the opportunity due to injuries, stepped up against the Texans in the secondary. He was awarded a game ball for his special team play and his defensive play.
He has five tackles on the season, five passes broken up and a quarterback pressure. He also made his first NFL interception against Matt Schaub of the Texans last Sunday. McDonald is currently fourth on the team in special team tackles with 13.
Romeo Crennel, who doesn't usually favor rookies, has been pleased with McDonald's progress.
"I think he has the quickness and can play back there," Crennel said. "He's done a good job with what we've asked of him."
McDonald, (5-10, 184 pounds) was selected 140th overall out of Memphi s. He does have good blood lines as he is cousins to NFL players Corell Buckhalter and Steve McNair.
Last week, McDonald was paired up with Andre Johnson, one of the best receivers in the NFL. He held him to just three receptions for 37 yards.
"For being a rookie, I thought they'd challenge me," McDonald said. "I prepared and was ready.
"I didn't pay a lot of attention to going up against Johnson," McDonald said. "I knew they would go after me, but I felt I was ready."
"Derek has continued to progress and played well," Savage said. "When you take in the full picture, he has had a chance to develop in the full way. He was a third-stringer when Trent Dilfer was here. He was the backup and a play away last year. When Charlie got hurt last year, he got a chance to play.
Ultimately, all of those experiences helped him to get ready for the season," he said. "I want to give him his just due. He has had a few wobbly moments, but in do or die situations, he has made the plays."
Savage did say that he wouldn't be surprised if the Browns don't sign him to a contract.
"There are different moves that can be made, but we're trying to avoid some of those distractions, now," he said. "All of our attention is to this year.
"There's always a possibility about us talking about a contract," he said. "I wouldn't say it's out of the realm. (Anderson's agent) always finds my email after every game, particularly when we win or Derek plays well."
Savage said he hasn't been approached about the availability of Anderson.
"No one has really asked me, to tell you the truth," he said.
"Most preseason publications had the Browns quarterback situation at No. 30-31 or 32," he said. "I don't know where it is now, but I don't think it would be there."
He did mention the scenario for a tender offer would most likely require compensation of a first- and third-round choice should the Browns decide to not re-sign Anderson.
"He's played good," Crennel said. "He knows the game plan. He doesn't give up sacks and he does a pretty good job."
"I would say he's been the lynch-pin on our offensive line."
Hall of Famer Willis Dies: Browns Hall of Famer Bill Willis died Tuesday night in Columbus at the age of 86. Willis played with the Browns for eight seasons from 1946-53. He was named to the three Pro Bowls and was an All-AAFC selection three times and was All-NFL in each season from 1950-53.
Willis was brought in by Paul Brown as one of the first African-Americans to break the color barrier in 1946, a year before Jackie Robinson broke into major league baseball.
"Bill Willis was one of the pioneers of the game of football," Crennel said. "Everyone associated with the Cleveland Browns is saddened by his loss. His hard-nosed play on the field, coupled with the manner in which he conducted himself off of it, epitomized what it is to be a Cleveland Brown. Our prayers and condolences go out to the Willis family."
Crennel said the team will memorialize Willis by wearing a patch on their uniform or helmet.
Baxter Wins Courage Award: DB Gary Baxter was awarded the Ed Block Courage Award by his teammates. The award is given out annually to a player who comes back from injury. Even though Baxter didn't return to the field, he was able to return after two torn patellar tendons to his knees to the practice field and active roster until he was placed on injured reserve.
On Sean Taylor: "We send our condolences to the family of Sean Taylor," Crennel said. "Several of the players and coaches in our building were close to him and it's very unfortunate for a man so young to lose his life."
Crennel said he has talked to his players about their vulnerability.
"I told them they live in glass houses," he said.
He also said he didn't know how many of the players owned guns, but he advised them to turn them in if they had them.
Injury Update: Crennel said he is going to have several players sit out practice on Wednesday in order allow the players to rest. Those included are: WR Braylon Edwards (hamstring), DL Ethan Kelley (knee), OL Kevin Shaffer (knee), DL Robaire Smith (knee) andDB Eric Wright (knee).
"We going to rest some of those guys to see if we can get them out their Sunday," Crennel said. "None of these injuries are operational, they just need some rest.
"They all want to play," he said. "We want to see where they are at (Thursday)."
Crennel said Edwards strained his hamstring in last Sunday's game.
Practice Squad Additions: The Browns lost two players last week off the practice squad and they added two players to replace them. TE Johnny Harline was signed and RB Korey Chapman.
The Browns lost RB Chris Barclay last week as he was signed to the Titans' active roster and. Harline was on the Browns' practice squad earlier this season.