BEREA — Tackles can be a misleading statistic. They don’t always accurately measure production, and the numbers can fluctuate greatly depending on who’s keeping track.
But coach Eric Mangini said it’s relevant that nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin leads NFL defensive linemen with 79 tackles.
“It’s meaningful. The level of improvement he’s had is impressive,” Mangini said Thursday. “The thing that I love about him is his effort. He’s strong, he plays with good technique, he cares, he’s tough. It’s not an accident that he leads the NFL for a defensive lineman in tackles. He’s earned that.”
Rubin will get a good challenge Sunday in the finale vs. Pittsburgh as he faces rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, who was voted to the Pro Bowl as a backup.
“He’s a very, very aggressive, high-motor guy and is going to give you everything he’s got on every play, so I gotta get my mind right and get ready for that,” said Rubin, in his third season, first as a full-time starter. “The first game they were trying to run the ball and Pouncey’s very energetic and he’s a get-in-your-face kind of guy and run you off the ball.”
The Steelers ran for 121 yards in a
28-10 win in Pittsburgh in October. Mangini said Rubin handled Pouncey as well as anyone he’s seen this year.
“I thought he did really well,” Mangini said of Rubin. “He needs to do really well again this game for us to be successful, especially in the running game.”
Hillis sits again
Running back Peyton Hillis missed practice for the second straight day with sore ribs. Mike Bell, who rushed seven times for 27 yards Sunday against the Ravens, took the first-team repetitions.
Hillis was injured Sunday on the second play on a hit to the back from Baltimore safety Ed Reed. Mangini said he’s still optimistic Hillis will be ready for Sunday.
“He’s better than yesterday and we’ll see how he is tomorrow, but I feel pretty good about him,” he said.
If Hillis isn’t able to play, the Browns would have to find another running back, because Bell’s the only other option on the roster. Quinn Porter would likely be promoted from the practice squad.
l Right guard Floyd Womack (knee) didn’t practice again. Defensive end Brian Schaefering (shoulder) was added to the injury report as a limited participant. Fullback Lawrence Vickers (illness) practiced fully after missing Wednesday.
Mangini said Joshua Cribbs’ injured foot has improved enough for him to be heavily involved in the offense Sunday as a receiver and a Wildcat quarterback. Cribbs was hurt Nov. 14 against the Jets.
“I thought Josh looked really good last week,” Mangini said. “I thought it was probably the best that he’s looked from a physical perspective. I’m assuming that that’s how it’s going to look this weekend. He looked good yesterday in practice.”
Cribbs has a history of success against the Steelers. Three of his eight career touchdowns on kickoff returns came against Pittsburgh and he ran for 87 yards against them out of the Wildcat in an upset last year. Cribbs was going to be an integral part of the offense in the first meeting in October, but was knocked out early in the second quarter with a concussion on a hit from linebacker James Harrison.
“He’s done a lot of good work against Pittsburgh,” Mangini said.
Coming next year
The Browns know 14 of their 16 opponents for 2011. In addition to home and away games with AFC North rivals Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati, they will host Jacksonville, St. Louis, Seattle and Tennessee. Cleveland will travel to Arizona, Houston, Indianapolis and San Francisco.
The Browns will also host the AFC East team that finishes in the corresponding spot in the standings and visit the corresponding AFC West team. The Browns (5-10) are third in the North, but could slip to last if the Bengals (4-11) upset Baltimore and the Browns (5-10) lose to Pittsburgh.
The draft order won’t be determined until Sunday’s games are over, and the Browns could finish anywhere from the top five to No. 14. Carolina (2-13) is guaranteed the top pick and three teams are 4-11. The Browns are one of six 5-10 teams, and four teams are 6-9.
The tiebreaker in draft order is strength of schedule. The Browns enter the Pittsburgh game having faced the third-toughest schedule, so they would draft later among teams with the same record.
l Vickers was shut out of the Pro Bowl again. It’s the second straight year he thought he deserved to make the AFC roster. Houston’s Vonta Leach was the selection.
“I knew that was going to happen,” Vickers said. “It’s bigger than just playing on the field. It is what it is.”
l Mangini moved practice into the fieldhouse Thursday after players repeatedly slipped on the frozen outdoor field Wednesday.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253
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