BEREA - The Browns practiced without their two starting guards Thursday. It`s not the ideal way to prepare to face the top-ranked Pittsburgh defense.
Right guard Eric Steinbach, who signed a $49.5 million deal in the offseason, sat out after twisting his back in practice Wednesday. Coach Romeo Crennel said the injury occurred about midway through practice.
"He`s day to day," Crennel said. "Those backs are fickle. I`ll rest him (Thursday) and we`ll see (today)."
Left guard Seth McKinney left last week`s game with a shoulder injury and hasn`t practiced this week. Crennel wouldn`t go into details about the injury, but McKinney isn`t expected to play.
"We`re working through that one," Crennel said.
That left veteran right tackle Ryan Tucker at right guard and journeyman backup Lennie Friedman at left guard.
"Injuries always impact things," Crennel said. "Our players have always done everything they can to get ready to be there Sunday. If they are able to go, then we`ll play them. If not, we`ll play the next guy and go from there."
Left tackle Joe Thomas remained upbeat when asked about the possibility of playing without his starting guards.
"We`ve been getting a lot of rotation on the line all year, in case someone can`t play," he said. "The guys who are going to come in are going to do a good job, and I have no doubt at that."
The availability of a quality player like Tucker off the bench is a luxury the Browns haven`t had in the past. An 11-year veteran, he`s been rotating at right tackle with Kevin Shaffer since returning in Week 5 from a steroids suspension. Tucker hasn`t played guard since his early days in the league, but took some snaps there in the preseason.
"It`s fun. It`s a change-up," he said. "It`s football."
"Ryan looks like Ryan always does," Crennel said. "The thing about the guard position, particularly in pass protection, (the defender`s) on you just a little bit quicker. He will continue to work on his pass sets.
"But Ryan`s a strong, physical player with good experience and knowledge of the game. If he has to play, I think he`ll do a good job."
After Tucker and Friedman, Isaac Sowells and tackle Nat Dorsey would be the options at guard.
Made to be broken
Running back Jamal Lewis said he doesn`t have any mementos from his 295-yard rushing day vs. the Browns in 2003.
"I really don`t," he said. "It`s in a book."
Lewis` mark stood as the single-game NFL record until Minnesota rookie Adrian Peterson ran for 296 Sunday vs. the Chargers.
"I thought eventually it would be broken, because it wasn`t out of reach," Lewis said. "At least a guy I really well respect got it. So, it`s cool."
Lewis was asked if he could`ve run for 300 yards on his big day.
"I could`ve had 350 that day," he said. "It`s just a good day. It`s a good day when you`re feeling it and you`re in a zone, and I think that`s where (Peterson) was."
With the third pick --
Following Peterson`s record performance, some critics have wondered why the teams before the Vikings at No. 7 passed on him. The Browns took Thomas at No. 3.
"It depends on what your team needs at the time you make the pick," Crennel said. "Our team needed a tackle, so I`d rather have the tackle named Joe Thomas."
Thomas, from Wisconsin, has started every game and was named a midseason All-Pro by Pro Football Weekly.
It`s a snap
The Browns missed punter Dave Zastudil in the opener vs. Pittsburgh, when he was sidelined with a back injury. Replacement Paul Ernster dropped a perfect snap on his first attempt, scrambled to get off a 15-yard punt and the Steelers scored off the great field position. It was all downhill from there.
"You hate to miss any game, especially opening day," Zastudil said. "To see that happen, it was a little tough. But one play doesn`t really affect the game.
"This time we`re trying to minimize turnovers and try and jump on them right away."
Zastudil has punted in 11 times in four games for a 43.4 average. His net of 30.2 was hurt by Nate Burleson`s 94-yard touchdown Sunday.
Browns linebacker Antwan Peek didn`t practice after experiencing swelling in his knee.
* Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes (hamstring) didn`t practice. He had two touchdown catches Monday night.
* Cleveland Browns Stadium ranked No. 3 in SI.com`s "NFL Fan Value Experience," which rates the fan experience in seven categories: tickets, food and souvenirs, accessibility, tailgating, caliber of team, stadium atmosphere and neighborhood. Green Bay`s Lambeau Field was No. 1, and Pittsburgh`s Heinz Field was second.
* Linebacker Willie McGinest will join Destinie Keeton, a sixth-grader at Metro Catholic School, for the annual "Take a Player to School" program Tuesday.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.