BEREA, Ohio -- Desperate to resume his career, a "down and out" Ryan Tucker risked his football future by taking steroids.
He'll pay for it -- and so will the Browns.
Tucker, Cleveland's rock-solid right offensive tackle, was suspended Friday for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances.
Tucker admitted taking a banned substance, saying he did so while being treated for a mental disorder that limited him to nine games last season.
"I didn't intend to compromise the integrity of the NFL, my team," a remorseful Tucker said following Friday's morning practice. "I want to apologize to the fans, my family. It's been a long road in which I was pretty down and out last year. In my attempt to come back I took a banned substance.
"I'm going to fulfill this punishment and get it behind me."
Tucker can practice with the Browns throughout training camp and
the preseason. However, he cannot be with the team during his suspension, which begins Sept. 1 and runs through Oct. 1. He is not appealing the ban.
Browns coach Romeo Crennel said he would support Tucker, but
characterized the suspension as disappointing.
"We were counting on him," Crennel said. "He's an integral part of that offensive line and created some depth and competition for us. When you lose a guy like that it definitely hurts."
Crennel also said releasing Tucker at the end of his suspension is an option.
"That's always an option for any player we have," he said. "Like I said, at the end of these four weeks we will see where he is, we'll see where we are and than we'll do what is best for the Browns."
The 32-year-old Tucker, one of Cleveland's team leaders on the field and in the locker room, refused to divulge any details about what substance he took.
"There was a point last year that I didn't know if I was going to play again," he said. "Bottom line, I'm healthy now. My family is healthy and happy. People are behind me here, and my family is behind me. That's really all I have."
Tucker will be out during a brutal stretch of games for the Browns, who went 4-12 last season and have had only one winning season since 1999.
Cleveland opens at home on Sept. 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers and hosts Cincinnati the following week. The Browns travel
to Oakland in Week 3 before playing the Baltimore Ravens at home on
Sept. 30 -- the day before Tucker's suspension ends.
The Browns are just 1-11 against AFC North teams under Crennel,
whose future could hinge on Cleveland getting off to a good start.
Tucker won a Super Bowl ring with the St. Louis Rams and has
been a dependable player for the Browns since joining them as a
free agent in 2002. The 11-year veteran started all 16 games in
2005, and in 2003 he was the only Cleveland offensive player to be
on the field for every snap.
He talked about "getting the respect and trust back of my
teammates" earlier this week, but he wouldn't elaborate.
Tucker's suspension opens a sizable hole on Cleveland's rebuilt
offensive line. Kevin Shaffer or Kelly Butler likely will move into
Tucker's starting spot. Shaffer started at left tackle left season,
but was probably going to be replaced by Joe Thomas, one of
Cleveland's first-round draft picks, who has looked good in camp.
The Browns upgraded their line in the offseason, signing free
agents Eric Steinbach and Seth McKinney, re-signing center Hank
Fraley and using the No. 3 overall pick to take Thomas, considered
one of the most polished tackles to come into the league in years.
Tucker was placed on the reserve-non-football-illness list for
the final eight games last season. At the time, the Browns said
Tucker's disorder was one "commonly experienced by the general
population as well as by professional athletes."
Tucker has given no details about his illness. He said he is
"Everybody is faced with countless obstacles," he said. "The
other day somebody asked me if all this stuff is behind me -- I just
had to laugh. There's nothing funny about it, believe me. My family
is suffering more than anybody because it's going to be public and
people will make their own assumptions."
The suspension is the latest distraction for the Browns, who
have had to overcome countless injuries, bad drafts and rotten luck
since their expansion return eight years ago.
Earlier this week, defensive tackle Orpheus Roye, the club's
best lineman, underwent knee surgery and could miss the season
opener. Also, rookie quarterback Brady Quinn has yet to sign and
report to camp.