Rough Welcome: Browns Rookie To Go Against Sapp In Debut
October 10, 2002 at 9:37 PM EST - Updated July 2 at 2:40 AM
By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Warren Sapp's favorite Sunday meal -- right after quarterbacks -- would likely be a young, inexperienced offensive lineman making his first NFL start.
Pass the salt, Melvin Fowler.
Fowler, a rookie center who has yet to step on the field during a game this season, is expected to start for the Cleveland Browns this weekend against Sapp and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Fowler has not yet been selected a starter, but Browns coach Butch Davis said Thursday the club has been working the Maryland rookie at center this week in place of Dave Wohlabaugh.
"You've got a great chance to see him this week," Davis said of Fowler, who has been inactive for three of five games.
Asked on Thursday if he was starting, Fowler's eyes shot wide open as he fumbled for an answer.
"Ummmmmm," he said, looking around the room for help. "I guess ... we'll find out on Sunday."
Fowler, selected in the third round (No. 76 overall) in this year's draft, did acknowledge he's been working with the first-team offense, spending time at both center and guard.
Wherever he lines up Sunday, Fowler will have to contend with Sapp, Tampa Bay's All-Pro defensive tackle who anchors the league's most dominant defensive line.
Sapp's Web site (www.quarterbackkilla.com) may not take as many hits as Cleveland quarterback Tim Couch.
It's fair to say that there are far better teams to make your pro debut against than the Bucs.
"It would be a tough game for anybody -- first game, 100th game, 10th game, whenever," said Browns guard Shaun O'Hara. "They're a force up front. Their defensive line is real good. They do a good job of pressuring guys."
One of the reasons Davis is considering the switch at center is Wohlabaugh is still playing with a broken right hand. With his right hand wrapped in a large bandage and pad, Wohlabaugh snapped left-handed in last Sunday's loss to Baltimore.
Wohlabaugh made just one errant snap, a grounder in the shotgun that Couch recovered near the end zone. The quarterback was hit by four Ravens while pouncing on the ball and sustained a concussion on the play.
Davis applauded Wohlabaugh's one-handed effort.
"He performed in the shotgun much better than I ever expected," Davis said. "I thought we may get five of those. There were some limitations and restrictions in the running game. You can imagine being like a doctor going into surgery with one hand."
Davis said if Wohlabaugh doesn't play, it's not because of his bad snap.
"Absolutely not," Davis said. "If he was out of the cast and healthy, he would be the starter this week."
Despite Fowler's inexperience, Davis said the rookie gives the Browns a better chance up front against Sapp, Anthony McFarland, Simeon Rice and Greg Spires.
"Well, he's got two hands," Davis said. "It's a lot easier doing it with two than doing it with one. We have no reservations about him playing."
Fowler isn't worried about anything, either.
Although he hasn't played yet, the 6-foot-3, 300-pounder has prepared each week as if he was going to. On three Sunday mornings this season he was told he wouldn't be dressing for the game.
"My role on this football team is to help in anyway possible. If that means being inactive, then, I'll be inactive. I'll do whatever the teams needs me to do."
This week, that means slowing down Sapp.
"He's a great player," Fowler said. "He's a very quick, very powerful player and if I were to get the opportunity to play against him, it would be a tough challenge."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)