BEREA, Ohio -- Wearing a white Texas baseball cap backwards and a laminated wristband full of offensive plays, Browns quarterback Colt McCoy was engulfed by a huge wave of cameras and reporters in the middle of Cleveland's locker room.
McCoy strained to hear a question over the teasing screams of his teammates, who gave him the typical rough rookie treatment.
"Golly," McCoy said, shaking his head and smiling.
Yep, it's hard to believe. But sooner than he or anyone expected, McCoy has become an NFL starter.
With quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace still slowed by severe ankle injuries, Browns coach Eric Mangini said Wednesday that he is "leaning" toward McCoy making his pro debut this Sunday in Pittsburgh against the rival Steelers.
As far as McCoy's concerned, the leaning is over. Mangini has fallen his way.
"I'm excited about it," McCoy said. "You can tell my teammates, they're all joshing with me and giving me a hard time. I'm really excited. Back in the huddle, back calling plays."
McCoy's quick ascent from third-stringer to starter by Week 6 is not what the Browns envisioned for the third-round draft pick.
The plan was to have McCoy, whose 45 wins with the Longhorns are the most by any quarterback in NCAA history, spend the season watching and learning behind Delhomme and Wallace. He was supposed to soak up whatever knowledge and advice he could from team president and resident QB guru Mike Holmgren.
But injuries have sped up McCoy's timeline. His day, which wasn't supposed to arrive for some time, came faster than imagined.
"This wasn't the scenario that the coaches wanted," McCoy said. "Jake and Seneca, they're outstanding. I've learned so much from them. I've been in the locker room with them and in the meetings with them. I've taken the same notes they have all year long. I've prepared like I was the starter every week and that's not going to change."
But instead of running the scout team during practice this week or charting plays on a clipboard Sunday, McCoy will be under center.
In Pittsburgh. Against the Steelers. Three Rivers. Terrible Towels. Mayhem.
"It's definitely going to be a test for him," Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. "We do play a good defense. Especially coming into a first game, that's got to be tough for a rookie."
It's tough for anyone.
McCoy knows what he's getting into.
He's well-versed on the Steelers, who like to pressure quarterbacks of all shapes and sizes with blitzes from every angle. McCoy's been brushing up on them by studying in the film room, but he's already a bit of a buff on the black and gold's vaunted attack.
"I've watched them play for a long time," the 24-year-old said. "They've won Super Bowls. They've got tremendous players -- Harrison, Polamalu, Woodley. They're all good. Casey Hampton went to UT so I know him. I have all the respect in the world for those guys. We know what challenge we have ahead of us."
McCoy struggled during much of training camp and the exhibition season as he adjusted to the warp-speed tempo of the pro game. He certainly didn't look like Cleveland's quarterback of the future, but a 13-for-13 performance in the Browns' final preseason game against the Chicago Bears boosted his confidence -- and his coaches', too.
Mangini believes McCoy can manage Cleveland's offense, against Pittsburgh or anyone else. He won't limit the Browns' play selection just because he's starting a rookie QB.
"Everybody's got to get their feet wet at some point," Mangini said.
As protection in case McCoy falls flat on his face or gets hurt, the Browns re-signed Brett Ratliff off the New England Patriots' practice squad on Tuesday. Ratliff spent last season with Cleveland and was with the club until being waived last month.
About halfway through his interview, McCoy remembered he had Cleveland's plays visible on his forearm for the world to see.
"Better take my wristband off," he said sheepishly.
He corrected his mistake, but McCoy won't have as much time to fix things if they go wrong Sunday. The Browns may help him by using the wildcat formation with Joshua Cribbs, who ran for 87 yards as Cleveland beat Pittsburgh 13-6 last season, snapping a 12-game losing streak to its bitter rival.
McCoy played in plenty of big games at Texas. The Steelers are a new level of big.
"He's a proven winner and I believe with the talent around him, and with the package that's going to be tailored for him, we will put him in the best situation to be successful," Cribbs said. "He's well equipped to go in against the so-called big, bad Steelers and help us win."