August 19, 2002 at 8:12 PM EST - Updated July 1 at 8:20 AM
By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
BEREA, Ohio (AP) - One week. One preseason game. It appears that's all the time Darren Hambrick needed to convince the Cleveland Browns he could fill Jamir Miller's shoes at strongside linebacker.
Hambrick, who before getting a late-night phone call from the Browns recently was wondering if he belonged in the NFL, practiced Monday with Cleveland's first-team defense.
So does that mean he's a starter?
"Kinda, sorta," he said. "I'm pretty sure I'll be with the ones. They said (the starting job) is there. I'm hungry and want to take it."
Hambrick signed as a free agent last week after Miller, the Browns' Pro Bowl linebacker, tore his Achilles' tendon in the exhibition opener against Minnesota and was lost for the year.
The Browns started Anthony Denman in Miller's spot in Saturday night's 24-23 win over Detroit, but Denman didn't make a tackle and coach Butch Davis didn't seem impressed.
"He did OK," Davis said of Denman, one of the club's top special teams players last season.
Hambrick, though, caught Davis' eye.
"One thing is when the ball is snapped and the lights go on, the instincts take over," Davis said. "He found the ball a lot of times even if he didn't know what he was supposed to do."
For Hambrick, who led the Dallas Cowboys with 154 tackles in 2000 and started eight games for Carolina last season, signing with Cleveland was a fresh start to a career he feared might be over.
The Panthers decided not to re-sign him following last season, and before the Browns called last week, the 26-year-old was beginning to worry that he wasn't going to get another chance.
"I didn't know if I was going to be in the unemployment line or what," he said. "I didn't know I was going to be looking for a job. A lot of things run through your mind. What you gonna do? Mentally, I had to hang on. The mental stress of wondering, do I belong in this league?"
The answer came when the Browns called him at halftime of the Vikings' game after realizing the extent of Miller's injury.
Hambrick gives the Browns some needed experience at a key position.
"They said it's there for the taking," Hambrick. "When the opportunity presents itself I'm going to throw myself around and make it stick. Hopefully, I'll be the guy."
Hambrick said if he's given the starting job it's going to be hard for anyone to take it away from him.
"I'm tough," he said. "I get tougher once I get in there."
Davis has been disappointed with his defense's intensity through two preseason games and vowed to challenge them this week in preparation for Monday night's game in Green Bay.
The Lions picked up 441 yards and would have had a TD on their opening drive against Cleveland's starting defense if Az-Zahir Hakim hadn't dropped a pass in the end zone. A week earlier, the Vikings opened with a 14-play, 75-yard scoring drive.
The Browns' starters were only in for 11 plays against Detroit, but Davis said that's no excuse for poor tackling and blown assignments.
"They need to step it up," Davis said. "It's a concern from an urgency standpoint. You want to play well. I'd rather have them go out and dominate. Go three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out and then go over and eat ice."
Safety Robert Griffith couldn't argue with his coach's assessment. The Browns defense, which led the NFL with 33 interceptions last season, hasn't played well.
"We're going to pick it up," Griffith said. "We got a high level of expectations this year. He's right. We didn't play the way we want to play this year. We started off with a lot of intensity, but as far as where we want to go, we haven't even scratched the surface. So it's warranted."
Notes: LB Earl Holmes, who sat out Saturday with a sore right knee, practiced with the first-team defense. ... Rookie RB William Green was pleased with his performance Saturday -- eight carries, 28 yards and two receptions, 10 yards -- but said there's plenty of room for improvement. "I'm pretty hard on myself, but I've seen a lot of things that I got to do better," he said.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)