BEREA, Ohio – The Cleveland Browns have new team colors: bruised and orange.
As many as seven starters, including quarterbacks Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace and running back Peyton Hillis, missed their second straight practice on Thursday as the Browns, banged up on both sides of the line, prepared to face the well-rested Pittsburgh Steelers.
The injury bug has bitten deep into the Browns this season, and won't let go.
"It's football," Wallace said. "Injuries happen."
They seem to be coming at an inordinate rate in Cleveland.
Wallace, a career backup who made four starts while Delhomme recovered from a high ankle sprain in the season opener, confirmed he suffered the same injury when he was sacked in the first half of Sunday's loss to Atlanta. Wallace entered the locker room on Thursday wearing a plastic protective walking boot, which has become something of a fashion trend with the Browns.
"A lot of people are wearing boots around here. Mike Holmgren started that," Wallace said, referring to the Browns president who recently shed his boot after undergoing foot surgery this summer. "He was walking around with the boot earlier in training camp and nobody had a boot on. Now it seems like it's the thing."
With both of his experienced quarterbacks limping and potentially out for several weeks, Browns coach Eric Mangini is expected to start rookie Colt McCoy against the Steelers, coming off their bye week.
On Wednesday, Mangini said he was "leaning" toward going with McCoy, the winningest quarterback in NCAA history.
Mangini was asked if he had tipped further.
"I'd say that the lean is more pronounced," Mangini said before practice. "I was really happy with what he did yesterday."
McCoy got the majority of the snaps with the first-team offense on Wednesday, and he worked with the starters again Thursday during the 30 minutes of practice open to the media. Mangini was impressed with McCoy's composure on the field during the workout, which ended with McCoy leading the Browns in their post-practice "breakdown" huddle for the first time as a pro.
"That's probably what he was used to doing for years and years being in that role, and he just fell back into that role," Mangini said.
In all, nine players — down from Wednesday's 11 — sat out practice Thursday and four others were limited. In addition to Delhomme, Wallace and Hillis (thigh), the Browns' walking wounded includes: defensive linemen Shaun Rogers (elbow), and Robaire Smith (back), center Alex Mack (shoulder), guard Floyd Womack (knee), tackle John St. Clair (ankle) and tight end Robert Royal (shoulder).
Mangini is hopeful he'll get more players back on Friday. He needs Hillis — badly.
The punishing back pulled his quadriceps muscle in practice last week. After gaining more than 100 yards in consecutive games, he was hindered by the injury against the Falcons and managed just 28 on 10 carries. The Browns will need Hillis at full strength against Pittsburgh's No. 1-ranked rushing defense, giving up just 62 yards per game.
If McCoy does start, and there is little evidence suggesting he won't make his regular-season debut, the 24-year-old will have to deal with a defense with a nasty reputation.
"It is Blitzburgh," Mangini said.
McCoy's challenge will be to recognize when the Steelers are coming, and if he can, audible into plays to offset Pittsburgh's pass rush.
Mangini doesn't expect Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and Co. to show McCoy any mercy.
"I'm sure that they're going to do things that they think is going to beat the protection, beat the scheme and there is always something creative that they come up with each game," he said. "That's something that they've done for a long time, they've done well for a long time. It hasn't really been exclusively with young quarterbacks, sometimes when it gets rolling it happens a little bit more."The Browns need to safeguard McCoy, who is on track to become the 16th different quarterback to start a game for the Browns since 1999. The team re-signed Brett Ratliff this week off New England's practice squad as a backup, but with the way things are going for Cleveland, it's not farfetched to think he could get some playing time if McCoy gets hurt or struggles.
Wallace's injury knocked him out of a game for the first time in his career, forcing Mangini to go back to Delhomme, who wasn't mobile and appeared to re-injure his ankle. Mangini declined to comment on Delhomme's status and the veteran QB has not been seen at the team's training facility this week.
Wallace finally made an appearance in Cleveland's locker room, hobbling in as his teammates dressed for practice. Wallace doesn't know when he'll be able to play, and until he returns, McCoy will have to hold down the fort.
Wallace feels the former Texas star can handle the heat.
"He played at Texas, it's like America's Team, like the Dallas Cowboys," Wallace said. "He's been in the limelight before. It's not college, you're going to Pittsburgh. It's going to be tough, but with his type of character and the kind of person he is, he'll be able to deal with it."