BEREA — The Browns played without stalwart defensive end Robaire Smith on Sunday against the Steelers and could be without him for the rest of the year.
Smith, 32, has been battling a back injury for weeks and aggravated it against the Falcons on Oct. 10. He didn’t practice last week and was inactive Sunday.
Coach Eric Mangini, who despises talking about injuries, admitted Smith could be headed for season-ending injured reserve.
“It’s possible,” he said Monday.
Smith was signed as a free agent in 2007 and started 16 games. He missed 14 games in 2008 after tearing an Achilles’ tendon, but returned to start 15 games and lead the linemen with 62 tackles in 2009.
Kenyon Coleman switched from right to left end Sunday, with Brian Schaefering getting the start on the right side, the second of his two-year career. Schaefering played well, making seven tackles, including one for loss.
“I know I’ve got some big shoes to fill, filling in for Robaire,” he said after the game. “Not just this week, but every week the rest of the season. He’s one of our leaders on the field and off.”
Smith didn’t return messages. His helmet wasn’t hanging in his locker Monday, just like the players already on IR such as linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and running back Montario Hardesty.
The Browns already lack depth on the line, especially with Shaun Rogers limited by a series of injuries and not in game shape. He took a couple of snaps at the end Sunday but played only about 10 for the game.
The trade deadline is 4 p.m. today and Rogers, who doesn’t seem happy to be here, is a candidate to be moved. But the Browns would almost have to get a lineman in return. The only backups are Derreck Robinson and Jayme Mitchell, who’s never played in a 3-4 scheme.
Time for Haden?
With starters Eric Wright and Sheldon Brown struggling — Wright gave up two touchdowns Sunday, Brown one — rookie cornerback Joe Haden, the No. 7 pick in the draft, seems closer to a starting spot. He’s been the nickelback through six games.
“I thought Joe had his best week of practice since he’s been with us,” Mangini said. “I think he’s starting to understand what it means to be a pro, he’s starting to understand what it takes to prepare each week and there’s no doubt in my mind that that week of preparation led to his best performance since he’s been here.”
Haden had his first interception and returned it 62 yards to set up a field goal. He also had two tackles, a pass defensed and downed a punt inside the 5-yard line.
“What I’m happier with is that he can now very easily see how it translates into success on the field, and if he keeps it up, then he’ll keep pushing for playing time, and that’s what you want,” Mangini said. “That’s what I want, that’s what he wants, and I don’t mean I’m looking to replace anybody. I’m looking for him to get better to push those guys to replace them, because that competition makes everybody better.”
Wright continues to struggle. He gave up three touchdowns to Baltimore’s Anquan Boldin, then got beat by Mike Wallace and Hines Ward for scores Sunday.
“Eric has some things that he can definitely correct and we’ll work on those this week, we worked on them last week,” Mangini said.
“He’s played a lot of games at a high level and I expect him to play at a high level week in and week out because that’s what he’s capable of. He knows it, I know it.”
Mangini isn’t ready to name rookie quarterback Colt McCoy his starter for the rest of the season, but he could get another shot Sunday in New Orleans with veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace still recovering from high ankle sprains. Both were inactive Sunday and Mangini didn’t have an update Monday.
“We’ll see how he does in that opportunity he could have coming this week,” Mangini said of McCoy. “We’ve really got to see how it progresses and evaluate it from there. I thought he did a great job with this opportunity and now we’ll see what the consistency is like, see what the development is like and see what it continues to look like.”
McCoy made a great throw to tight end Evan Moore with James Harrison in his face on the first drive. He went 23-for-33 for 281 yards, a touchdown, two interceptions and an 80.5 rating.
Mangini said he ran out of the pocket too quickly on a few plays, but wasn’t holding it against him.
“It’s hard to grade them down too much for those things being their first time and there’s so much he has to know and then to know exactly where the blocker’s going to fit on different pressures,” he said. “You want him to know all of that stuff but there’s going to be some of those mistakes that happen.”
If Joshua Cribbs can’t play against the Saints because of the concussion he suffered Sunday, the Browns will need to find a punt returner.
Receiver Chansi Stuckey, who gets repetitions in practice, tried for the first time in a game Sunday and struggled. He had trouble catching the ball cleanly and muffed one in the fourth quarter that led to a Pittsburgh touchdown.
“Chansi put the ball on the ground one time, but he has good hands,” Mangini said. “Joe Haden’s worked back there a little bit. There’s a couple different options that we have if (Cribbs) is not available, but my hope is that he will be available.”
Haden returned kickoffs after Cribbs got hurt. He had two for 45 yards.
Tight end Benjamin Watson didn’t understand a low hit by Steelers safety Troy Polamalu on an incompletion in the second half.
“He hit my ankle,” Watson said. “I don’t know what he was going for.”
Was it dirty?
“I can’t make that call,” he said. “I never say a player’s dirty.”
Watson said the ankle’s fine.
Quote of the day
“Colt was telling a story about going to a gas station and a father asked him to come over and see his sons and he opened the door and two kids in car seats are yelling ‘Pittsburgh sucks!’ That’s how we’re bred in Cleveland. That’s it.” — Mangini, on playing angry against the Steelers.
- Running back Peyton Hillis said his strained quadriceps held up well. He carried 12 times for 41 yards and caught six passes for 49. “I’m a lot better than I thought I’d be,” he said. “I’ll get treatment today and tomorrow. I think I’ll feel a whole lot better by Wednesday.”
- Safety T.J. Ward went to Oregon and was mad that it’s No. 2 in the BCS behind Oklahoma despite being undefeated and ranked No. 1. “That’s the BCS for you,” he said. “It’s biased.”
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