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Ailing Browns' fashion statement: The protective boot

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As many as seven starters, including quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace and running back Peyton Hillis, missed their second consecutive practice 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 during the first half of last Sunday's loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Wallace entered the locker room 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 will start rookie Colt McCoy against the Steelers, a team source told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora on Thursday.

McCoy took the majority of the snaps with the first-team offense 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 the rookie 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).

Wide receiver/returner Joshua Cribbs (ankle), safety Abram Elam (knee) and safety Nick Sorensen (calf) missed part of practice.

Mangini is hopeful he'll have more players back 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 yards on 10 carries. The Browns will need Hillis at full strength against Pittsburgh's No. 1-ranked rushing defense, which is giving up just 62 yards per game and is coming off a bye week.

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McCoy will have to deal with a defense that has a nasty reputation.

"It is Blitzburgh," Mangini said.

Therefore, 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," the coach 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 Associated Press contributed to this report.

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