Couch Says He's Ready To Start

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Tim Couch says his arm feels fine. So good, that he proclaimed himself the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback for this week's game against Tennessee.

Maybe he should tell his coach.

Couch missed the first two games this season while resting his sore right arm. The fourth-year QB tore scar tissue near his elbow in an Aug. 26 exhibition game, and has had his throwing limited the past few weeks.

While Couch has been sidelined, backup Kelly Holcomb has started and led the Browns (1-1) to a 20-7 victory on Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Two games was more than enough time away for the antsy Couch, who says he'll be the one under center against the Titans.

"I'm going for sure," Couch said Monday. "That's kind of been the plan, as far as I know."

Browns coach Butch Davis wasn't quite as confident that Couch would be back in the lineup in Week 3.

"I have no idea," Davis said. "We'll find out Wednesday. The doctors have targeted this week as when they think he has a chance to be the starter.

"He has done what our medical people have asked him to do, and we're all moving forward with the idea that hopefully he'll be able to do it. He has taken no negative steps in the last two weeks, so all indications are is that we're heading in that direction (for Couch to start)."

Davis' answer didn't rule out the possibility that Couch might sit out again, however.

Couch will test his elbow during practice on Wednesday, and said that unless there's a setback he'll make his first start of the year.

But that's what Couch thought was going to happen last week before doctors told him to rest his arm for another week.

"I thought I was ahead of schedule, and they wanted me to stick to the schedule," Couch said. "That's the only conflict that we've had."

Despite Holcomb's excellent play in the first two games, Davis said that whenever Couch is ready, the Browns are his team.

"Kelly has played well," Davis said. "But Tim is the starting quarterback, and if Tim is well enough to play and be the starting quarterback he'll be the starting quarterback. We'll watch as the week goes on."

Holcomb has done everything the Browns could have hoped while keeping Couch's starting spot warm.

After two games, Holcomb has completed 44 of 69 passes for 524 yards with five interceptions and no interceptions. Entering Monday night's game, the career backup's rating of 111.0 is the NFL's second highest among regular quarterbacks.

He passed for 326 yards in the opener against the Chiefs, and followed it up with an unspectacular but very efficient performance against the Bengals.

As he's watched from the sideline, Couch has been impressed by his understudy.

"I thought he played excellent," Couch said. "He did his job. When guys get hurt, guys get to step up and play. He won us a game. If you're going to win and make the playoffs, you've got to have quality backups."

Couch was asked if he learned anything about running Cleveland's offense while watching Holcomb.

"Not really," he said. "I'm going to do my own thing and play the way I played in the preseason. I had the offense moving and was playing well."

Couch had the best exhibition season of his career, completing 30 of 39 for 310 yards and two TDs.

Holcomb, who has made three career starts, knows his role. He served as Peyton Manning's backup in Indianapolis and has been No. 2 behind Couch since last season. But after getting a taste of starting, he admits it will be tough going back to the bench.

"I wouldn't be human if I said it didn't bother me," Holcomb said. "I understand. The realistic point of view is that's my job."

For now, Davis has dismissed any notion of a quarterback controversy once Couch can play.

"He's the proven guy," he said. "He won seven games last year. There's no question in anybody's mind that he's the best quarterback."

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