While the 3-1 Steelers welcome back starter Ben Roethlisberger, the 1-4 Browns are "leaning" to untested rookie Colt McCoy to replace veterans Seneca Wallace and Jake Delhomme, who both missed practice Wednesday with (high) sprained ankles.
Both Wallace and Delhomme are expected to miss Sunday's game between the teams at Heinz Field, and Browns coach Eric Mangini said he was leaning to McCoy over recently acquired Brett Ratliff, whom the Browns cut after training camp.
Mangini didn't rule out Ratliff, a project of his ever since Mangini's days as coach of the New York Jets. Mangini, though, chose McCoy over Ratliff only six weeks ago after McCoy completed all 13 passes in his final preseason game.
McCoy finished the preseason with a passer rating of 61.1. Ratliff's was 40.6.
"I have confidence in Colt and I have confidence in Brett," Mangini told Cleveland reporters on Wednesday. "But I want to take a look at the practice, too. (McCoy)'ll get a majority of the reps."
McCoy, a four-year starter at Texas, holds the NCAA record with 45 wins as a starting quarterback. He was the Heisman Trophy runner-up as a junior, yet wasn't drafted in 2010 until the 21st position of the third round.
Last season McCoy left the national championship game after the fifth snap when he was hit in his non-throwing shoulder by star Alabama defensive tackle Marcel Dareus. X-rays were negative, and McCoy reportedly begged to re-enter the game, but a group, said by ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters to have included the Texas team doctor, coach Mack Brown and McCoy's father Brad, told McCoy "he needs to be concerned and take care of his NFL future."
That future appears to be now against the Steelers, who were also on the other side of NFL starting debuts by quarterbacks John Elway and Brett Favre.
Is the 6-1, 211-pound McCoy ready to take on this Steelers defense?
"I would think he probably is," said nose tackle Casey Hampton. "He's the type of guy who's not going to go out there and bomb."
Hampton, of course, is a former Longhorn who watched McCoy play throughout his Texas career, and he's a bit fond of him.
"I hope he does bad," Hampton said. "And then late in the game, after it's pretty much over, I hope he does well."
If McCoy can't move the Browns, Ratliff would likely take over. He's been a project of Mangini's ever since the 6-4, 224-pounder came out of Utah following an 8-5 2006 season. Ratliff signed as an undrafted free agent in 2007 and stayed on the Jets' practice squad throughout the season. He made the active roster in 2008 but didn't play.
"He's a confident quarterback with nice size and a nice arm," said former Ute and Steelers rookie Stevenson Sylvester.
Mangini must agree. He traded for Ratliff after becoming Cleveland's coach in 2009. Ratliff stayed with the Browns throughout the season, but again didn't see any action.
The Browns cut him following their 2010 camp, and Ratliff spent three weeks on the Jacksonville practice squad and a week on the New England practice squad before Mangini came calling again this week.
Of course, Mangini doesn't believe it'll matter which player makes his NFL debut against the Steelers, and he's probably right, considering the Steelers are 14-point favorites.
"To beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh, regardless of who's the quarterback, you better play smart, you better play tough and you better be consistent through four quarters because they're going to be consistent through four quarters and they're going to be tough and it's going to be loud," said Mangini.
"There are no trick plays. There's no microwave answer to beating these guys. This is a solid football team in all three phases that are tough and are tough at home. You better be ready to meet that intensity and meet it head on, and if you aren't then you've got problems."