More and more, it appears this seemingly never-ending Browns quarterback derby may not end until the eve of the regular season.
As other teams with quarterback questions have already named, or are close to naming, a starter in the third week of the preseason, the Browns do not look to be in any hurry to do so.
Head coach Eric Mangini has said all along that he has no timetable for picking a winner between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn. He has said he doesn't see himself rotating quarterbacks once the season begins, but has never really ruled out taking the decision past the end of the preseason on Sept. 3, maybe even to the evening of Sept. 12, just hours before the start of the regular season the next day with a visit from the Minnesota Vikings.
Mangini, who built his resume as a defensive assistant, has said any number of times that the thing he hated the most when he was in that role was when he didn't know who the opposing quarterback was going to be.
But Quinn, who has played it close to the vest and not said anything too revealing through this whole process, added some fuel to that fire when addressing the media on Thursday as the Browns were wrapping up preparations for Saturday night's contest against the Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
When asked what he would think if the decision did not come down until the night before the opener, he said something interesting, "That would be good. The Vikings wouldn't be sure who to prepare for."
Mangini may think the Browns, trying to rebuild after last year's 4-12 finish, need to have an ace up their sleeve – some indecision like that – to have a chance in going against a Vikings team that appears to be a strong Super Bowl contender. They won the NFC North title last year with a 10-6 mark, have the reigning NFL rushing champion in Adrian Peterson (1,760 yards) and signed some quarterback several weeks ago named Brett Favre.
In any event, Mangini said not to read "anything at all" into who starts against the Titans. Quinn started the opener in the 17-0 loss to the Green Bay Packers, and Anderson got the nod last Saturday night in the 27-10 win over the Detroit Lions. So, in that kind of rotation, it seems it's going to be Quinn's turn to go.
No matter who starts, however, Mangini added that the reps against the Titans will be split as evenly as possible between the two players.
He said even though the third preseason game is usually considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season since the starters play into the third quarter, Saturday's contest is not the last – and most important – piece of evidence in the decision-making process, but rather "just a piece of the puzzle."
Even with that, would Mangini be ready to name a starter then?
"We'll see where we are after the game," Mangini said
Probably no further along in this derby than the Browns were before the game.
MORE ON QUINN: Mangini has said consistently that "the ability to run the offense" is what he'll be looking for more than anything as he evaluates the play of the quarterbacks. The book on Quinn is that running the offense is his strength. "I've never read that book, but I feel that's a strength of mine," he said. "I'm confident in all of my other abilities, though."
HMMMM: Mangini was suspiciously vague – again -- when asked about the availability of veteran tackle/guard Ryan Tucker for the game. "We'll see," the coach said simply without much elaboration. Tucker, in his 13th season overall and eighth with the Browns, missed practice for a second straight time on Thursday. He was not on the exercise bike with other injured players, but Mangini said some injured players receive treatment inside.
Tucker also missed several days a couple of weeks ago under equally strange circumstances as he did not work on the bike with the other injured players, and was not seen anywhere. The Browns chose their words very carefully then when talking about Tucker's whereabouts and condition, and when he finally returned, he skirted the issue as well, saying only that he was fine.
There are several things that make the situation even cloudier. First, Tucker said he considered retiring in the month and a half between the end of the minicamps in the spring and the start of training camp, but decided against it. Has he had a change of heart? Several weeks ago when he was absent, the Browns insisted he was not retiring. However, now he has been working with the second- and third-team offenses and, even if he were healthy and out there every day, he seems to be in real jeopardy of making the team. Does he see the writing on the wall?
Secondly, he missed all but one game last year with hip and knee problems. Have those injuries flared up again? Tucker sat out the final seven games of 2006 with emotional issues. Have those returned?
And finally, several years ago, Tucker admitted to a reporter that he had a drinking problem. Is he battling that again? Tucker is the best offensive lineman the Browns have had in the expansion era, and a real class act – one of the leaders in the locker room. It would be sad to see him leave the game because of anything other than his own accord.
HMMM II: So what's up with Shaun Rogers? The Pro Bowl nose tackle hasn't practiced for several weeks. Every day during practice, including Thursday, he rides the exercise bike. If the thing wasn't stationery, then Rogers would have ridden to about Newfoundland by now. If he's hurt, then it certainly doesn't appear to be serious. He walks and moves well. We should all walk and move as well as he does.
It doesn't appear as if Rogers is being disciplined for anything. He and Mangini seem to have patched up any differences they may have had shortly after the coach was hired and he was trying to meet personally with all the players. Maybe it's just that Mangini knows what he has in Rogers – a dynamic player who is clearly the defense's top playmaker – and thinks it would be useless to play him in preseason games and risk him getting hurt. By sitting him now, Rogers would have fresh legs for the regular-season opener against the Vikings, when things start to count.
A TITAN-IC CHALLENGE: The Titans had the best regular-season record in the NFL last year at 13-3, but lost 13-10 to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. As with most Jeff Fisher-coached teams, they did it with defense, giving up just 234 points, the second-fewest in the league. Fisher is the dean of NFL head coaches, as this is his 16th season overall, and his 15th full year, with the Titans/Houston Oilers. He took over for the fired Jack Pardee with six games left in the 1994 campaign. His second contest was a 34-10 loss to Bill Belichick's Browns at Cleveland.
If the Browns want to gauge just where they're at in this rebuilding process, the Titans are an excellent team to be playing, especially after meeting – and beating – the club that had the worst record in the NFL last year, the 0-16 Lions.
"They're a very good team that's had a lot of success over the years, and Jeff Fisher is a very good coach," Mangini said. "For this to have coached so long with them, that's impressive."
NO ROOM AT THE INN: Eric Steinbach is a good left guard, but he looked like a natural at left tackle when he got some reps there in training camp. Because of his slender build, quick feet and athleticism – he looks and moves much more like a power forward in basketball than an NFL guard – the 6-foot-6, 315-pounder could go to left tackle with no problem if two-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas would get hurt, or just needed to catch his breath.
But Steinbach knows that any move to left tackle would not be permanent. "It's been that way throughout my career," he said, laughing.
"When I was at Iowa, the left tackle was Robert Gallery (picked by the Oakland Raiders at No. 2 overall in the 2004 NFL Draft). When I went to the Bengals, they had Levi Jones (the No. 10 overall selection in the 2002 draft), and then I come here and they have Joe."
Steinbach said when he played in the Senior Bowl in 2003, the coaches had him play some at left tackle to showcase him for the draft for teams that were considering playing him there.
NEW DIGS: The media got a chance to see the Browns renovated locker room. By taking over the space that used to be the players lounge, they increased the square footage of the locker room by 883, to 3,759. And whereas before when players were grouped together by position, Mangini mixed up the locker arrangement by putting players at different positions next to one another.
"A locker room is a locker room," wide receiver/returner Josh Cribbs said.
"Everything is different. The coaches are different. Change is good."
Cribbs said the players had no input into the setup of the locker room. "We don't pick anything," he said. "It just is what it is."
"He's my Kent State buddy," Cribbs said.
Buddy? Does a buddy get called for holding, nullifying a 95-yard return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff, just as Elam did to Cribbs against the Lions?
"He was just trying to keep me humble," Cribbs said.
MORE ON CRIBBS: He says returning kicks and punts is like a shooter in basketball getting hot. "When I return one for a touchdown, I get in the zone and start thinking that I'll take the next one all the way," he said.
"And if I take another one, then they'll start kicking away from me, and that's how it should be."
THE FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST: NFL teams are now at 80 players but must get down to 75 next Tuesday. The following Saturday (Sept. 5), they'll have to get to the regular-season roster limit of 53.
"Cutting players is not fun," Mangini said. "It's the part of the job that you never look forward to."
MANGINI QUOTABLES: "There's a lot of diversity in the huddle. Some guys respond to one thing, and others respond to something else. I want a guy to be whoever he is." – when asked if a quarterback had to have a certain personality to have command of the huddle.
"Me personally, no. It wouldn't be my first choice. But I'm not saying anything is wrong with it. I don't get to see it much, but it's a pretty cool show. It gives a lot of insight into what happens with certain things. A lot of the shows I do watch now aren't as cool as that one, unless you're 3 or 5." – Mangini when asked if he would ever volunteer his team to be the subject of HBO's "Hard Knocks," as the AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals have done this year.