Desmond Harrison goes from undrafted to Browns' starting left tackle

BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns are turning to an undrafted rookie who failed a drug test at the scouting combine as the initial replacement for Joe Thomas at left tackle.

Desmond Harrison, who concedes his past included too many actions that were "immature," will start Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"When he came here, we were very excited about him," coach Hue Jackson said. "There were some things he did in OTAs. You could see it. Then it got to be, how bad did he want to be the left tackle. And he just kept working. It's a heck of a story, but it doesn't matter until game day. He's got to go do it."

The move puts Joel Bitonio back at left guard. Bitonio had moved to left tackle early in training camp. He now will have primary responsibility for Steelers standout defensive lineman Cam Heyward.

In Harrison, the Browns have a player with immense talent and potential, but one who, aside from practice, has not faced top-level competition since 2013, when he played in parts of seven games at Texas.

"He's long. He's athletic," Jackson said. "He can run. He's tough. He's all the things that you want. He just hasn't done it yet at this level."

"He looks like a left tackle in this league," Bitonio said. "He plays the game the right way. He plays hard. If you watch any of his tape in the preseason or in college, he really finishes guys. He likes to play the right way. You know he's coachable; he's learning.

"He hasn't played against some of this competition before, but he's out there, and he's fighting, and he's going against Myles [Garrett] in practice every day, and he's battling, and he's doing his best to be the best he can be for the Browns."

Bitonio said communication will be important so that Harrison is aware of his assignments.

"So we're just trying to make sure we're on the same page and he knows what we're doing on every play," Bitonio said.

Harrison said he first felt he could start when he took part in rookie minicamp. His ability has not been questioned. But making the jump from West Georgia -- the Wolves beat Catawba 34-3 in their opener -- is significant.

"I had to block Myles Garrett," Harrison said, "so I won't see much I haven't seen already."

Harrison's background is interesting. He was kicked out of Texas after he was suspended and missed the entire 2014 season. He sat out two seasons planning his future, then enrolled at West Georgia, where he dominated against Division II competition.

Harrison enrolled at Auburn out of high school, but academic issues sent him to junior college. After two seasons, he enrolled at Texas in 2013, where he wowed coaches with his ability. "He was so good, we thought we'd only have him for one year and then he'd be drafted high," former Texas coach Mack Brown told Cleveland.com in a lengthy profile of Harrison.

But issues with transfer credits and an ankle injury limited Harrison to part-time duty in seven games. During spring break in 2014, he was shot in the buttock, which he admitted to teams at the combine. He was suspended for that incident and two other times in 2014 at Texas -- for marijuana use and for being in a car while friends robbed a convenience store -- according to Cleveland.com.

He missed the entire 2014 season, then was kicked off the Longhorns. He sat out two seasons, took a job with a moving company, pondered his future and enrolled at West Georgia.

He was invited to the Senior Bowl but didn't play due to a knee issue. He weighed in at 279 at the Senior Bowl but was up to 292 at the combine, where he failed a drug test.

Harrison conceded to the failed test, first reported by Bleacher Report on Friday, and said he had a long talk with the Browns about it. He said he would have no issue doing the right things with the Browns. He said his weight is up to 305.

Of his past, he said: "Just being immature."

The Browns signed Harrison shortly after the draft with competition from the Giants. In Harrison and receiver Antonio Callaway, the Browns have two players with past issues who failed drug tests at the combine as well as receiver Josh Gordon, who has played in only 10 games since 2014 due to numerous league and team suspensions.

"You have to understand each specific situation," general manager John Dorsey said earlier this week, speaking generically and not specifically about Harrison. "And then see within their person, are they willing, do they have within their hearts, is there a degree of humility in there? You can read through that. And then are they coachable?

"Are they willing to adapt and be not only good football players but better men. And that's what we all strive for in this whole thing."