QB Booty Ready To Pinch-Hit For Browns

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Josh Booty has pinch-hit as a pro before -- just never as an NFL quarterback.

A former third baseman for the Florida Marlins, Booty has moved up the Cleveland's depth chart because of an injury to Kelly Holcomb and will be Tim Couch's backup on Sunday when the Browns visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I'm on deck, man," said Booty, using some baseball lingo. "I'm not in the hole anymore."

Booty, who has yet to play in a regular-season game, is now the Browns' No. 2 quarterback after Holcomb broke his leg last Sunday night in the fourth quarter of a 26-21 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

"I think I'm ready to go," said Booty, claimed off waivers from Seattle last season. "I've been in the organization for a year and learned all our offense. I'm not a 12-year veteran, but I think about as prepared as a backup could be."

Besides Couch, Booty will be Cleveland's only other true quarterback to suit up this week.

Browns coach Butch Davis chose not to sign another QB this week, leaving wide receiver Frisman Jackson, who played quarterback at Western Illinois, as the third-stringer.

"I hope I don't have to go in," said Jackson, who threw a ball 83 yards during practice recently. "I hope it never comes to that."

Booty, on the other hand, knows he's only one snap -- whether an ankle or play -- from making his NFL debut. He went 20-of-33 for 230 yards in the exhibition season, playing mostly in the fourth quarter against backups.

"This is a lot different than the preseason," he said. "They play the big boys for four quarters and I feel like I can play with them. I just need to show it."

It's been four years since Booty, picked ahead of Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra in the 1994 baseball draft, returned to football following a five-year stint as an infielder in the Marlins' organization.

Booty's choice was easy. Let's just say he struck out as a big leaguer.

"I struggled," said Booty, the Marlins' opening-day third baseman in 1998, whose big swings usually resulted in big misses. "I was like Rob Deer."

Booty also took his share of grief from fans in small minor league towns all over the south, who remembered him as a Louisiana high school football legend.

"When I came up, they used to play the Monday Night Football song all the time," he said.

With his baseball career stranded at first -- he played in just 13 games for the Marlins -- Booty enrolled at LSU so he could play with his brother, Abram, a wide receiver with the Tigers.

But by the middle of his first season, Booty was in the middle of a quarterback controversy with Craig Nall, now Green Bay's third-stringer, and Rohan Davey, New England's No. 3 QB.

"I was supposed to be the savior, and I was getting booed off the field," Booty said. "It was just horrible."

Booty knows firsthand that a Saturday night crowd in Baton Rouge can be as tough as Cleveland's was Sunday night when some Browns fans cheered after Couch got hurt.

"There are a lot of similarities between here and there," he said. "The fans here are wonderful. Those same fans can be brutal, too. LSU was the same way, 80,000 or 90,000 drunk Cajuns could be pretty vicious at times."

The experience thickened Booty's skin, and gave him a perspective he shared with Couch this week.

Couch, who sustained a concussion last week, tearfully lashed out at fans following the game.

Booty's advice to Couch?

"I told him to be resilient," Booty said. "The tide will turn. The fans look up and see zero (points), and they boo. But if you go out and have a good half, then everybody is back on their feet, drinking beer and eating hot dogs like nothing ever happened.

"He just has to be resilient and keep on playing ball. Keep on chucking the rock and good things should happen."

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