By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: When the Browns (4-6) host the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-6) on Sunday, they must be on alert for Troy Polamalu no matter where he lines up.
It could be at strong safety, his true position. It could be at linebacker. It could be at the line of scrimmage.
“He’s everywhere,” Browns tight end Jordan Cameron said. “He’s a disrupter. At the line of scrimmage, he’ll see something, and he’ll kind of just jump the gun and kind of avoid his responsibility, and usually he’s right. He’s a dangerous player. You’ve got to be aware of where he’s at, at all times. He’ll line up deep, and he’ll come running down and shoot a gap. He’s a tough guy to go against.”
Ranked 14th in the NFL (340.8 yards allowed per game), the Steelers’ defense isn’t the powerhouse it has been in recent seasons, but Polamalu is still among the best defenders in the league. He ranks third on the team with 60 tackles to go along with a sack, six broken-up passes, an interception and a forced fumble.
“It starts with 43,” Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “He just keeps going. I know he missed some time last year [because of injury], but I think everyone who plays against him knows that it starts with him.”
Polamalu, a seven-time Pro Bowler, needs one more interception to tie Jack Ham and Darren Perry for seventh in team history with 32.
“He’s a tremendous player,” quarterback Jason Campbell said. “He’s going to be a hall of fame safety one day. He does a lot of things. He plays safety different than any other guy in the league. I have the utmost respect for him.”
Protégé vs. mentor
Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton has considered Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau his mentor for 30 years. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Horton in 1983. LeBeau was his defensive backs coach and later defensive coordinator. After his playing days, Horton coached with LeBeau when they were members of the Bengals and Steelers.
“It’s more of a personal than a professional relationship,” Horton said. “I think when you have a mentor like that, it is that way. It goes beyond football. I carry some of the life lessons I’ve learned from him into my life and instilled into my children and my coaching career. Probably everything that I am, he’s a big reason why.”
Horton said his 3-4, multifront defense is “probably identical” to the Steelers’ scheme under LeBeau.
Turner believes the Browns’ offense can benefit from the familiarity.
“There’s certain things that when we look at the tapes we say, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve seen that in practice,’ ” Turner said. “To me, it always comes down to understanding what they’re doing, and we try to do that every week with whoever we’re playing, and then creating matchups and then winning the matchups. I don’t think Ray can help us win any matchups, but he has helped us in terms of going against the things they do and then having a little better understanding of their defense.”
With punter Spencer Lanning’s left knee giving him trouble, the Browns auditioned Zoltan Mesko, a Twinsburg High School graduate, T.J. Conley and Robert Malone this week, NationalFootballPost.com reported. Chudzinski confirmed workouts took place and explained why none of the tryout punters were signed.
“Spencer, his knee was a little bit swollen up on Tuesday,” Chudzinski said. “Since then, it’s resolved itself. He’s practiced full all week long, so really it’s no issue. At that particular time, we just made sure. We wanted to have some guys come in for a workout. Plans were already made and already arranged. They were here, so we just decided to work them out anyhow.”
Chudzinski did not place blame upon Lanning, who kicks with his right leg, for having a punt blocked and another one deflected Sunday in a 41-20 loss to the Bengals.
“His times were fine,” Chudzinski said.
Division of workload
Chris Ogbonnaya had a season-high eight carries for 69 yards (8.6 average) on Sunday, including a 43-yard run, the longest gain by a Browns running back this season. Ogbonnaya, who has been used as a fullback and tailback this season, had only 19 carries in the first nine games.
Ogbonnaya had been playing with injured ribs but came back from the Week 10 bye feeling better.
“I think he was a little beat up the last two or three games before the bye,” Turner said. “I think he’s healthier. He gives us a mix of a physical presence and the quickness.”
Meanwhile, running back Willis McGahee had only six carries for 13 yards (2.2 average) against the Bengals.
“I think we’ve got a good game plan going on,” McGahee said. “I’m not one of those guys who worries about game plans. Whatever the coordinator calls, we run it, meaning if I’m in the game, I’m in the game. If I’m not, I’m not. I’m not that guy that’s going to sit there and pout and cry about it.”
The Browns ruled out backup rookie tight end MarQueis Gray (hamstring). They listed starting inside linebacker Craig Robertson (sprained right knee) as doubtful and backup rookie defensive end Armonty Bryant (back) as questionable. Tank Carder will start in place of Robertson if he is ruled out Sunday morning as expected. … The Steelers ruled out backup rookie safety Shamarko Thomas (ankle) and backup linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring). They listed starting defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) and starting linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) as questionable. … The NFL fined Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko $7,875 for unnecessary roughness. He struck an opponent late during the fourth quarter against the Browns.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.