Browns' McCoy ready for Steelers, but could be without RB Hillis

Colt McCoy made it through practice unscathed. Next, he has to survive Pittsburgh's petrifying defense.

Barring an unforeseen development, Cleveland's rookie quarterback will make his first NFL start Sunday when the Browns visit the blitz-crazed Steelers, who are certain to come after McCoy from the moment he steps on the turf at Heinz Field.

It's a daunting task for anyone -- especially a wet-behind-the-ears quarterback.

"It's go time," Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said after practice on Friday. "He's facing the No. 1 defense in the league. What better way than to start out against the Pittsburgh Steelers? This is what he's always dreamed of."

Further challenging McCoy in his first start is the prospect of playing without starting running back Peyton Hillis, who is listed as questionable on the team's injury report. Hillis, who leads the Browns with 350 yards and four touchdowns, was limited in practice Friday, after sitting out on Wednesday and Thursday.

McCoy has been thrust into the starting lineup following injuries to Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, who are both nursing high ankle sprains and could be sidelined for several weeks. The team downgraded Wallace to out on Saturday's injury report. Defensive lineman Robaire Smith (back) and offensive lineman John St. Clair (ankle) were also ruled out on Saturday.

Delhomme wore a protective walking boot in the locker room, and was listed as doubtful -- a 25 percent chance of playing -- on Friday's injury report. 

Mangini, perhaps wanting to keep the Steelers guessing, has refused to officially announce that McCoy, the former Texas star and the NCAA's winningest quarterback, will start. But almost everyone else has indicated that McCoy will open behind center.

"I really like Colt McCoy," Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "I've seen him light our defense up for three weeks so it's good to have him actually play against somebody else."

McCoy hasn't played in a regular-season game, and Ryan knows his baptism by the black and gold will include the usual heavy dose of Steelers blitzes sent in by Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

"You know LeBeau is going after him," said Ryan, who admitted he would do the same to a rookie quarterback. "The young man is exciting to me, but I'd be lying if you don't go after a young quarterback, of course you do."

McCoy has impressed his coaches and teammates this week. He's taken control of the huddle, studied hard and doesn't seem at all intimidated by the chance to step in and start. McCoy became accustomed to playing in big games during four years starting for the Longhorns.

This is just another step up.

"The guy's a leader," Ryan said. "He's mature. He doesn't look like much. He's a competitive guy and I'm excited to watch him get out there and play. You've got to play sometime. Now there would be easier starts than playing the No. 1 defense, but this kid will probably do great."

The Browns selected McCoy after he slid to the third round in April's draft. They didn't intend to play him in his first season. But with Delhomme and Wallace hurt, the team didn't have any other options and so they've turned to the 6-foot-1 McCoy, who passed for 13,253 yards and 112 touchdowns in college.

Mangini was pleased with McCoy's progress this week in practice. He thinks the 24-year-old is prepared to handle the pressure.

He wants McCoy to play his game and not to become overwhelmed or try to do too much.

Or the Steelers will eat him alive.

"You can't force the ball into spots against this defense, you can't do it," Mangini said. "There are too many opportunities when you do that for them to make big plays. You have just got to be smart and you've got to make good decisions and you've got to go to the open player and make good reads and do a good job of controlling the defense with your eyes and understanding what's happening.

"Those are the things that I expect from him."

Visit's injuries page for Cleveland's complete injury report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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