BEREA, Ohio -- One day after New York Jets coach Rex Ryan joked about Eric Mangini's weight loss, Cleveland's coach fired back.
The Jets (6-2) will visit the Browns (3-5) on Sunday, and much of the pregame banter has included amusing exchanges between Rex Ryan and his twin brother, Rob, Cleveland's defensive coordinator. Rex Ryan said he placed a bounty on his brother, but he was afraid some of his players might bounce off Rob's belly.
He said he wanted to put a bounty on Mangini, "but he's small right now. It would be hard to hit that kind of target."
"I think everyone in New York is happy about that," Mangini said, "except maybe Macy's losing one of their floats."
In other Browns news, Jake Delhomme returned to practice Thursday, more than one month after he limped off the field following a loss to Atlanta.
The veteran suffered a nasty high ankle sprain in the season opener, then re-injured the ankle in Week 5.
While sidelined, Delhomme lost his job to rookie Colt McCoy, set to make his fourth straight start Sunday. At 35 and with end of his career in sight, Delhomme is not in control of his destiny. His fate belongs to Mangini, who in the coming weeks will have to decide whether to ride McCoy or go back to Delhomme or Seneca Wallace, also returning from an ankle injury.
Mangini's decision will impact three men, their families and an entire organization.
Delhomme doesn't know what to expect, but he has one prediction.
"Whatever happens," he said, "we're not going to rock the boat. I'll tell you that much. We're not going to rock the boat. Whatever's best for the team, and we've just got to work. That's the biggest thing. Whatever happens is going to happen.
"If that's what the coach wants, that's what the coach wants. That's what you do. You just do what's right. To me, I've always lived by this credence is that if you're true to the game of football, then it will be true to you. And in the situation like that, you do what you have to do, and that's just kind of what I believe in. It's not going to be a problem anyway we go with me."
It's comments like these that have endeared Delhomme to his teammates, who voted him a captain before the season began.
And despite playing the equivalent of one game all season and being sidelined the past month, spending countless hours under the fluorescent lights of the training room while his teammates practiced outside, Delhomme has remained a team leader.
He has mentored McCoy, teaching him what it takes to win in the NFL. They've grown close, bonding as teammates and driving to work together each day.
McCoy was grateful to hear he had Delhomme's support. He never doubted that he didn't have it.
"Jake is the classiest guy on this team and in this organization," said McCoy, 2-1 in his first three starts. "Jake's the best. We're really close. I wouldn't be playing as well as I am now without Jake. That's who he is. He wants to win, too. He's a competitor, but when circumstances like that happen, it's not the end of the world for everybody. He understands that and knows that this team needs to win.
"He's been helping me so much."
Ever humble, Delhomme refused to take much credit for McCoy's early success -- the Browns have beaten New Orleans and New England in back-to-back weeks -- and said he's mostly acted as a "sounding board" to McCoy, who was thrust into the starter's job in Week 6 at Pittsburgh after Delhomme and Wallace went down.
Like almost everyone, Delhomme had his doubts about how McCoy would do in the face of the Steelers' relentless blitzing. But McCoy, 24, handled the heat and made a few throws that convinced Delhomme the University of Texas product wasn't in over his head.
"He's played outstanding," Delhomme said. "The game doesn't seem too big for him. It's one thing to be able to practice, but to transfer over to a game, make some adjustments in the game and not let the game get too big. That's something he's done extremely well, and I'm proud of him for that."
Delhomme signed a two-year free agent deal with the Browns in March. He arrived looking to rebuild his career, which plummeted last season amid a storm of interceptions in Carolina, and felt reborn in Cleveland. And the Browns, desperate for stability at quarterback following a disastrous 2009 with Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, also were pleased.
Delhomme oozed optimism during training camp and when the season began, but he rolled his ankle while throwing a game-swinging interception just before halftime of the opener and was inactive the next three weeks. He came back too soon and was forced to play against the Falcons when Wallace got hurt.
He's had setbacks before, but the timing of this one has taken its toll.
"It's difficult," he said. "Sometimes you try to be Superman or Mr. Tough Guy and try to come back sooner, and it just didn't work. It's very frustrating."
Mangini praised Delhomme's selflessness in dealing with his tough break.
"It's impressive," he said. "It's impressive to watch his interaction. It's impressive to watch his mentorship. He's a real good role model to other guys as to what it means to be a leader."
Delhomme couldn't have imagined he'd be where he is, no higher than third on the depth chart with a tender ankle still causing him to limp.
But he's not complaining. It's just not in his nature.
"Did I think I'd play a quarter and a half of healthy football so far this year? No," he said. "But I don't think you ever think something like that. But you can't feel sorry for yourself. You've just got to deal with it and make the best of the situation."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press