Holmes Ready To Fill Center Of Browns Defense

By PAUL SINGER, Associated Press Writer

BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Cleveland Browns middle linebacker Earl Holmes said he sat out last weekend's preseason game against Detroit because of someone else's injury.

The Browns didn't want to take any chances on losing Holmes after Pro Bowl linebacker Jamir Miller suffered a season-ending right Achilles' tendon tear in the team's first preseason game at Minnesota.

Holmes, who is recovering from knee surgery in June, returned to the practice field this week for the first time since a controlled scrimmage against Buffalo on Aug. 3.

"I could have went last week but when Jamir went down it was a matter of 'Let's be patient here,' because we lost one of our key guys on defense," Holmes said before the team's Tuesday afternoon practice.

Coach Butch Davis said he was pleased with Holmes' progress.

"A little bit rusty yesterday, moved a little bit better today. No adverse reaction to physical activity yesterday whatsoever," Davis said. "We're giving him exactly what the doctor ordered."

Holmes, who led the Pittsburgh Steelers in tackles last year, was signed by the Browns in an effort to shore up a defense that was ranked 29th against the run last season.

He's even more important now that the Browns have lost Miller, who tied for the AFC lead with 13 sacks last season.

"Last year, when I was in Pittsburgh, (linebacker) Levon Kirkland was gone (to the Seattle Seahawks) and they said 'Earl, you're going to have to step up and be the leader on the team,' and we finished No. 1 on defense," Holmes said. "I'm going to make the plays I'm supposed to make."

Holmes said he saw no point rushing back to play last Saturday and risk an injury that could jeopardize his season. But he has no doubts he'll play Monday night against Green Bay.

"The most important thing now is for me to feel comfortable playing with the other 10 guys," Holmes said. "It's been a long time since I really tackled someone to the ground."

While he was sidelined, Holmes watched film and discussed plays with teammates after practices, so "I haven't missed a beat."

He's not concerned the Browns' first-team defense struggled in the team's two preseason victories.

"When you watch it on film, it's just a technique problem or maybe a mental error, but it's nothing where it can't be fixed," he said.

Holmes sat out the AFC championship game against New England in January after injuring his left knee during a playoff game against Baltimore when a teammate jumped on him to celebrate a fumble recovery.

Holmes said the arthroscopic surgery on his right knee was done as a precaution, to remove discomfort, and there is no lingering pain in his left knee.

"I feel great," he said.

He also doesn't feel he has to prove himself to Browns coaches, even though he's been limited during the preseason.

"They brought me over to play," he said.

Notes: Davis said he hopes injured offensive lineman Tre Johnson will return to practice Thursday on a limited basis. Johnson tore a tendon in his left leg in the third game last year and did not play the rest of the season. He strained his right knee in the Aug. 3 scrimmage with Buffalo and has not practiced with the team since. Davis would not rule out the possibility that Johnson will get some playing time in the Green Bay game. ... Placekicker Phil Dawson, speaking about the workout regimen that he and punter Chris Gardocki follow, said, "We do what everybody else does ... We try not to be the weirdos over on the side."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)