BEREA — Thaddeus Lewis could make his NFL debut Sunday as the Browns’ starting quarterback in Pittsburgh.
First-stringer Brandon Weeden and backup Colt McCoy both suffered right shoulder injuries during Cleveland’s 34-12 loss in Denver, putting the third-year pro under center Wednesday at practice.
Lewis took every snap with the first-team offense, while former Buccaneers starter Josh Johnson was signed to serve as his backup.
“If my number does get called against the Steelers, it would be wonderful,” Lewis said. “I would be living out my childhood dream of playing in the NFL. As a football player, you would love the opportunity to be out there, no matter where it is.
“But for now, my job was just to take reps with the ‘ones’ today at practice. Brandon and Colt are very competitive, so I know they will do anything they can to get better as soon as possible.”
While Weeden was diagnosed with a sprained throwing shoulder during the Broncos’ game, McCoy’s injury didn’t surface until Monday morning when he experienced soreness in his throwing shoulder upon waking up.
The Browns reacted to the news by promoting Lewis from their practice squad, where he had spent the previous 11 weeks, and by signing Johnson as a free agent. The latter had been out of the NFL since being cut by the 49ers late in training camp.
“We’ll see how Brandon and Colt come back because each guy’s injury is different,” Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur said. “But whoever is in there, I will trust. I’ve had experience with Thad in the past — both in St. Louis and here — so if he’s in there playing, we definitely trust that he’ll do a good job.”
Though Lewis has performed well during the past three preseasons (2010 and 2011 with the Rams, 2012 with the Browns), the four-year Duke starter hasn’t played in a game that counted since Nov. 28, 2009. That afternoon saw him throw for 387 yards and three touchdowns as the Blue Devils lost 45-34 to Wake Forest.
“We lost and it was Senior Day, so I’ll never forget it,” the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder said, chuckling. “It’s been a while since then, but believe me, when the lights go on, I’ll be ready to go if the coaches need me on Sunday.”
Shurmur said he wouldn’t preclude Weeden, McCoy or running back Trent Richardson (left ankle sprain) from playing in Pittsburgh at this point, stressing, “If they’re healthy and they’re able to go, they will. But if they can’t, I don’t have any problem ruling them out before the end of the week.”
In the meantime, Lewis will continue to practice as if he is the starter — and wonder if this will finally be the week he gets to step onto the field.
Lewis dressed for one game with St. Louis two years ago and three contests with Cleveland in 2011, but was a gameday inactive for the Browns from Week 1-5 this season. He was released on Oct. 10 and re-signed to Cleveland’s practice squad as soon as he cleared waivers.
“I know he was kind of down when he got put back on the practice squad, but he never let it affect how hard he worked,” Browns defensive end Jabaal Sheard said. “Thad always stayed humble and helped out wherever he was needed on the scout team, whether that was at safety, cornerback, wide receiver or wherever.
“I’m very proud of him and, if he gets the chance to start, I think he’s going to do well. He’s been here the last three times we’ve played the Steelers, and I know he’s studied everything about them.”
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin was understandably skeptical about his archrival’s quarterback situation during a conference call with Cleveland’s beat writers.
The Steelers are 11-1 all-time against the Browns at Heinz Field, most recently beating McCoy there on Dec. 8, 2011.
“We’re going to assume, of course, that Weeden is going to play until we hear otherwise,” Tomlin said. “And we’ve got a history of how to defend and play against McCoy if he’s their guy.
“But I’m familiar with Thad Lewis because you have to be a personnel guy if you’re working in this league. He had a distinguished career at Duke and has got good intangibles, so we know we’ll have to look for some additional things from him if he’s out there.”
If Lewis does play, Johnson also would be in uniform as Cleveland’s second-stringer. He last saw action in early October with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL before that league suspended play.
The 6-3 Johnson has appeared in 26 NFL contests, including five starts, with Tampa Bay. He has thrown for 1,042 yards with five touchdowns, 10 interceptions, a 57.7 passer rating, and an 0-5 record.
“When you have a chance to be signed off the street, you’re going to jump at it, so I didn’t ask many questions,” said Johnson, who did not work out for the Browns at any point this season. “It’s not like this is my first rodeo, though, so it’s just about getting caught up to speed with their offense.
“I’m happy to do anything they need, and I’m happy to be here in Cleveland.”
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.