Colt McCoy taking first-team snaps

BEREA, Ohio -- The plan was to keep Colt McCoy on the sideline this season so he could learn for the future. It arrived quickly.

Now, the Cleveland Browns can't get the rookie quarterback off the field.

McCoy will make his third consecutive start on Sunday when the Browns host the New England Patriots, completing a terrifying trifecta of games for the third-round pick who opened his NFL career with road games at Pittsburgh and New England.

Neither Seneca Wallace nor Jake Delhomme have been able to practice this week as they continue to recover from high ankle sprains, leaving McCoy as the best option for Browns coach Eric Mangini, who will be facing mentor and long-lost friend, Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Mangini, never one to reveal his plans in order to keep the opposition guessing, would not go as far as naming McCoy his starter. However, he did indicate McCoy was his top choice.

"We're moving pretty strong in that direction," Mangini said before Thursday's practice.

With Wallace and Delhomme unavailable, it's the only direction.

This will be McCoy's first start at home, where Cleveland fans will welcome him with a monstrous ovation. So far, he's 1-1 with a loss to the Steelers and a win over the Saints, who fell for several trick plays in a 30-17 loss to the Browns two weeks ago.

The Browns had hoped to have Wallace back this week, but he has not yet been cleared by doctors. Wallace may be able to practice on Friday, but by then the Browns will have installed their game plan for the Patriots. There is a chance, if he's ready, that Wallace could serve as McCoy's backup.

Wallace hasn't played since injuring his ankle on Oct. 10 against Atlanta, his fourth straight start filling in for Delhomme, who rolled his ankle in the season opener at Tampa Bay. High ankle sprains typically take 4-to-6 weeks to heal, and Wallace is just one month into recovery.

He tested his ankle on Wednesday -- the day Wallace was targeted to return after Cleveland's bye week -- but wasn't satisfied with the way it responded.

"I'm just being smart and not trying to rush to get back on the field," he said. "You know you gotta be smart with this type of injury. If it feels good and you go outside and do something that you haven't done in the last couple weeks, you can kind of nag it a little bit.

"It was just being smart. But there was no setback."

Delhomme has not been available to the media in two weeks. Making his debut for the Browns, the 35-year-old hurt his ankle while throwing a game-changing interception in the Sept. 12 opener against the Buccaneers. Delhomme was inactive the next three weeks, but returned as the No. 2 quarterback against the Falcons.

Still hobbled by the injury, the only way he was going to play was if Wallace got hurt. Sure enough, Wallace's ankle got twisted, forcing Delhomme to come in. Right away, it became apparent he wasn't ready and he re-injured his ankle, a setback that eventually led to McCoy's unexpected rise up the depth chart.

Mangini denied that Delhomme came back too early.

"No, it was a little bit different deal," he said. "With any of these things, I think when you come back, regardless of when you decide to come back, if you got hit the right way you've got a chance of re-injuring it."

Not knowing if Wallace or Delhomme would be ready, McCoy entered this week preparing to start. On Wednesday, he said he was excited about the possibility of playing against New England's Tom Brady, a player he has always admired and one he has studies religiously on film.

"Being here, a lot of the things that we do are from New England, a lot of the plays," he said. "So it's Tom Brady over and over, especially learning our offense. He's a tremendous quarterback. There's a reason they've won three Super Bowls. The guy is incredible.

"One of the things I've studied is his pocket presence, his awareness when he's in the pocket, when he's got to move. You saw the plays he made against Minnesota. You can't coach that. You can't teach that. That's something you develop over time and he's got it and just to be on the field, to play with him, to see him, it's going to be awesome."