BEREA: One of the goals this week for Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden is to avoid becoming another statistic.
Weeden wasn’t talking about another loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but more specifically, becoming another knockout victim of Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
The veteran Harrison, an Akron native, has a reputation across the league as a knockout artist and his ferocious hits on Browns players have become legendary.
In the past few years, Harrison, a former Coventry High and Kent State standout, has delivered hits that have left three key Browns players with concussions — former college teammate and current Browns kick returner Josh Cribbs, former Browns starting quarterback Colt McCoy and receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.
Although he’s heading into his first game against Harrison’s Steelers, Weeden is well versed on the horror stories.
“I’ve seen them from different clips,” Weeden said. “Hopefully, I’m not one of them.”
Harrison missed all of training camp with a left knee injury that ultimately required surgery and sidelined him for the first three games of the season. That has led to rather pedestrian statistics by his standards. Harrison has 33 tackles and two sacks in seven games.
But as Weeden has already come to understand, regardless of Harrison’s health, he lives to feast on the Browns and can make his presence felt, often for weeks.
Other Browns rookies are also aware of Harrison’s history.
“He’s one of those type dudes that want to go out for the knockout shot,” running back Trent Richardson said. “I know he’s a grown man out there and that’s what he loves to do, hit opponents in the mouth.”
Despite Harrison playing at less than 100 percent, Cribbs said he’s “still an effective linebacker.”
“They’ve had other guys step in on defense, but it has set them back,” Cribbs said. “[Harrison] still has to get comfortable, but I’m sure he’s capable of knocking somebody out.”
That wasn’t a dig on Cribbs’ old buddy, but merely a fact, mined from being friends off the field.
“He’s been doing it since I’ve known him,” Cribbs said. “He’s an outstanding linebacker and that’s what linebackers are supposed to emulate — him, what he is, as an athlete and a person. So I doubt he will show any weakness against us because if he does, we will smell it out because we’re the dogs.”
One of Harrison’s sacks came last week against the Ravens, when he had one of his better games with eight tackles, one for a loss, and a quarterback hit. The sack tied Harrison, 34, with Joey Porter for second place on the Steelers’ all-time sack list with 60.
“He’s been very realistic about where his performance has been and he’s working his way to the level where he wants to be, the production he’s comfortable with and we’re comfortable with,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said in a league conference call. “He didn’t have any preseason or training camp and those are big things. But he doesn’t make excuses and he’s working hard. And we’re starting to see the fruits of that labor.”
As for the Browns, it’s important to remember that Tim Couch was the last quarterback to play a full 16-game season. That was back in 2001 and it’s a streak Harrison contributed to last year with his illegal hit on McCoy that ended his season and his starting reign with the Browns.
Now, over a decade later, Weeden is looking to match Couch in that category. But first, he’ll have to survive two games against Harrison, today and the regular-season finale in Pittsburgh on Dec. 30.
“[Harrison’s] a great player [who] plays with a lot of energy and gets those guys [fired up],” Weeden said. “And, he’ll hit you — I think that sparks a little energy for that defense.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.