BEREA — Hank Fraley barely had time to learn his teammates’ names before the Browns’ 2006 regular-season opener, having been acquired from Philadelphia just eight days earlier.
One year later, and it’s clear that the veteran center has become one of the most respected members of the squad.
Fraley was one of five players chosen as Cleveland’s team captains earlier this week, which he called one of the highlights of his eight-year NFL career.
“This is a great group of guys in this locker room, so to be voted in by them means a lot,” Fraley said Thursday. “I guess it shows that hard work and the way I play is something the guys respect.
“I just go out every day and do all I can to help the team. That’s the kind of leadership I try to provide.”
The Browns’ players elected Fraley and wide receiver Joe Jurevicius as their offensive captains, linebackers Andra Davis and Willie McGinest to represent the defense, and kicker Phil Dawson to speak for their special teams.
Each player will wear a “C” on their uniforms as part of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s new initiative to publicly recognize team leaders.
“The other captains are players that I respect and would vote for, too, if I had the chance (to vote for the defense and special teams choices),” said Fraley, who started all 16 games last season. “It’s a nice feeling to be part of that group.”
As if Fraley’s week wasn’t exciting enough already, he will be playing in front of many of his friends Sunday when the Browns open their regular season against the Steelers.
Fraley, who attended Robert Morris College in downtown Pittsburgh, says he can’t wait to charge onto the field at Cleveland Browns Stadium to battle the black and gold.
“Coming out of Pittsburgh, I love the rivalry and I’ve got a lot of people coming into town for the game — both Browns and Steelers fans,” he said with a broad smile. “It’s great any time you play them, but especially to open up with them at your place, that’s as good as it gets.”
Still waiting on Willie
Linebacker Willie McGinest made his first public comments since undergoing surgery to repair a bulging disc in his lower back on Aug. 9. The Browns’ original estimate for his return was mid-September, but that has been pushed back indefinitely since McGinest has yet to take part in a practice.
“I don’t have a timetable,” the 35-year-old admitted. “I just knew I wanted to get the problem taken care of as quickly as possible because I’m not one to sit around and take painkillers and injections.”
With McGinest out, his spot at left outside linebacker is being filled by free-agent acquisition Antawn Peek, who will be one of three new starters on defense.
“We all feel better about the players we have and the players we’ve brought in this season,” McGinest said. “It’s gonna be good because there’s nothing better than starting with a division rival at home.”
Tackle Kevin Shaffer (concussion), defensive end Orpheus Roye (knee), guard Eric Steinbach (knee) and running back Lawrence Vickers (hamstring) are making progress, but no decision has been made on their status for the opener.
Based on his recent statements, Steinbach appears to be the most likely to play, but all four were limited in practice. Also not fully participating were safeties Gary Baxter (knees) and Mike Adams (groin).
“Everybody is trying to get better and be ready to play and make a contribution toward victory,” coach Romeo Crennel said.
• Linebacker Andra Davis (ankle), who sat out Cleveland’s exhibition finale in Chicago, said he would have played had it been a regular-season game. “I’m good, the ankle is good, I’m ready,” Davis said.
• Pittsburgh’s only reported injuries are linebacker Marquis Cooper (hamstring), who is out, and third-string quarterback Brian St. Pierre (toe).
Zastudil status up in the air
Punter Dave Zastudil (back) says he plans on playing against the Steelers, but has been unable to kick the football since Monday. The Bay Village native has only missed three games in his first five NFL seasons — all in 2004 with a shoulder injury — and is coming off the best year of his career.
Crennel is hedging a bit on Zastudil’s status as the week winds down, saying he doesn’t plan on signing a temporary replacement, but won’t rule it out either.
“I’m waiting for a drop-dead deadline to decide,” he said. “When the trainers say he can’t go, then I’ll bring somebody else in.”
Among the candidates to fill in is one-time Cleveland and Pittsburgh punter Chris Gardocki, who was replaced by the Steelers on draft day with rookie Daniel Sepulveda.
Whopper of a deal
Wide receiver Braylon Edwards is one of 32 players whose mini-jerseys are currently being featured in Burger King kids meals. The nationwide promotion features one athlete from each team, including marquee superstars like Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning and San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson.
“It makes me feel good to be one of the guys the NFL calls on for things like this,” Edwards said. “It shows the league trusts me to keep doing positive things on and off the field.”
He said Burger King hasn’t sent him any of the action-figure sized No. 17 jerseys, but loves the idea of fans being able to collect them at their neighborhood restaurants.
“It works well for me,” Edwards said. “There’s so much negativity around sports, but this is something fun to be a part of.”
Former Browns defensive end Nick Eason and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, an Ohio State product, are among the players with local connections on the Steelers. Linebacker James Harrison (Coventry/Kent State), wide receiver Nate Washington (Toledo Scott/Tiffin), safety Anthony Smith (Hubbard) and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (Findlay/Miami of Ohio) round out the list.
• Ex-Cleveland assistant coaches Bruce Arians and Larry Zierlein are serving as Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, respectively.
Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon will be behind the mic for the Browns/Steelers game on CBS (WOIO-TV 19). The matchup will be shown by every CBS affiliate in Ohio, as well as almost the entire states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky. Small parts of South Carolina, Indiana and Michigan will also get the game.
• Cleveland’s first two home games are sold out, but a limited number of seats are available for its Sept. 30 matchup with Baltimore.
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.