Friday Notes from Berea

Tim Couch prepares for what he calls "the biggest game of my pro career". Quincy Morgan looks over his shoulder. Butch Davis admits the Browns "really screwed up" with one of their players last year. Even Kevin Johnson gets a bit introspective. David Carducci captures the mood in Berea as the click ticks down to a critical test for the Browns...

BEREA - Quincy Morgan will be back as the starter at wide receiver Sunday when the Browns host the Steelers, but he is clearly still uncomfortable with the climate that led to his being benched for the second half of last week's comeback win over the Jets.

Morgan said he feels like he is being forced to always look over his shoulder. The fear - his starting job might be pulled away at any time.

"I've been playing like that almost the whole season," said Morgan, who ranks third on the team with 34 catches for 438 yards and three touchdowns. "That's due to the coaches. I feel like if I don't go out and play perfect, I might not be starting next week. It's hard to play football like that, and that is the truth. I still have to go out and play and be focused, even knowing that if any little thing happens, I'm going to be criticized and possibly not start. That's the way I have to go out every week. It's like I'm walking on egg shells."

Even if Morgan were to be moved out of the starting lineup, chances are he would still be a big part of the offense. The Browns pass more than any team in the NFL, and they have spread the ball around consistently with five different players totaling 24 or more receptions each in the first eight games. For Morgan, being on the first team is a source of pride that he does not want to give up.

"I want to start," said Morgan. "I want to start and finish the game. You can call it a pride thing, but that is me. I know this team does a good job of spreading it around, but I want to be the starter."

Butch Davis met with Morgan this week to explain the reason he was benched last week. Morgan said the meeting was "mellow."

"We talked football," said Morgan. "He explained why he took some guys out and why he doesn't want the mistakes. There was no argument. Nothing like that."

While the discussion was cordial, it did little to make Morgan feel more comfortable in his situation.

"I made a couple of mistakes early in the game," said Morgan. "Coach said I miss a hot read on a blitz and lined up too wide on a play. I didn't agree with it, but they can do with it what they want."

Tim Couch and Kevin Johnson spoke up in defense of Morgan this week. Both players said Morgan is a key to the success of the Browns' offense and their confidence in him has not waned. That meant the world to Morgan.

"I don't think guy can go out there and function and play well if players around you don't have confidence in you," said Morgan. "The fact that the guys have confidence in me, especially Kevin and Tim , that a big part of me going out and playing well."

COLD-WEATHER COUCH ... Davis said he is not worried about a weather report that has projected sub 40-degree temperatures for Sunday's game with the Steelers.

"We practiced outdoors all week long, and one thing I really like about Tim Couch is that I've been places where the quarterback has really struggled with cold weather or wet weather," said Davis. "If it snows or if the conditions are sloppy, Couch has big hands that grip the ball really well. (The weather) shouldn't change anything we want to do during the course of a ballgame."

JOHNSON DISAPPOINTED ... Kevin Johnson has expressed some regret this week for what he calls "an inexcusable" number of dropped passes on his part this season. Johnson estimated that he has dropped seven passes he normally would pull in.

ROYE MISTAKE CORRECTED ... Orpheus Roye is having his best season in a Browns uniform, and a big reason is his being allowed to focus on just one position.

As a regular at right defensive tackle, Roye has recorded 36 tackles with 25 solos. He leads is the Browns with 15 quarterback pressures and is tied for the team lead with three tackles for losses.

"I think this has been a very consistent year for Orpheus," said Davis. "I think we really screwed that kid up a year ago. We moved around from (defensive end to defensive tackle), from left side to right side, and I don't think for him that was the best way to coach him. The more he's been at a certain position, the more plays he has been able to make. He is a very good technician. I think he probably got that before he came here. I think he was good as far as the techniques of playing defensive tackle. The thing that I've noticed is that he is getting much better at defensive tackle."

THE BIG-GAME FACTOR ... Couch said he has seen this week that everyone on the Browns' roster senses the magnitude of Sunday's battle for first place with the Steelers.

"This week in practice there has been a lot of conversation on the field about this one being for first place," said Couch. "It's been like that all week.

"This is the biggest game we've had since we came back in 1999. This is what we always talked about, that it's going to get better one of these days and we are going to be playing for first place and playing in big games. Now that day is here. It's the game we've all talked about and wanted to play in."

Couch admitted that he has to guard against being "too pumped" for what he calls the "biggest game of my pro career."

"I try to treat it like a normal week," said Couch. "I try not to get too caught up in how big a game it is, and I try not to get too tight ... I try to come out loose and ready to go. We want to feed (off the crowd), but we don't want to come out so emotionally high that you are out there making mental errors and not focusing. Everyone is going to be jacked up. It's going to be a big game, but we have to keep our cool about ourselves and know there is a job for us to do. We can't just play on emotion.

"You have to let the game come to you. You never know how the game is going to start out, but if it starts out bad, you have to continue to stay with it and hopefully it will turn for you."

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