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Browns encouraged by Desmond Harrison's growth after jittery 1st half

Desmond Harrison admits the nerves of playing in his first regular-season NFL game got the best of him before settling down as the game unfolded. 

The rookie and Browns left tackle struggled in the first half of Sunday's 21-21 tie against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game in which Cleveland battled back from a slow start and double-digit deficit to force overtime. 

For Harrison, it was a chance to grow and learn, as the former undrafted free agent continues to find his footing on the biggest stage.

"I was critical (of myself), because things that I did, I shouldn't have done," Harrison said Monday. "And I did some good things too, but I just feel like I could have done more."

Named the team's starter and heir apparent to Joe Thomas days earlier, Harrison was called for two false starts and an illegal formation in a game in which he faced off against Bud Dupree and, occasionally, Pro Bowl defensive end Cam Heyward. 

Harrison, a talented prospect out of West Georgia who wasn't drafted because of inconsistent play and off-field concerns, flashed that athleticism at times while protecting starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor's blindside. In other moments, he appeared overwhelmed by a defense that managed to drop Taylor seven times. When coach Hue Jackson went back and studied the film, however, he saw a young player improve as a rain-soaked game went on. 

"I think he did some good things. I think for his first game – obviously the illegal procedures we want to clean those up. But he fought, he battled hard," Jackson said. "I know a lot of people thought that the protection issues were on him or on that particular side. There was one pressure I know for a fact that he gave up. But he did some really, really good things."

Indeed, Harrison had his share of rookie moments this past weekend. But considering the 24-year-old missed most of training camp with a toe injury, the Browns say there was plenty to like from his debut. With the retirement of 10-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas this past spring, Harrison is part of a new-look offensive line that returns three starters — left guard Joel Bitonio, center JC Tretter and right guard Kevin Zeitler — and signed right tackle Chris Hubbard in free agency.

As the line continues to build chemistry, Tretter said Harrison got "better as the game went on."

"Especially with a young player, there's going to be growing pains. It was his first NFL start. There are going to be bumps in the road," Tretter said.

"He did a good job of kind of getting through that first half and then kind of settling in. That's going to take some time. It is our job as a unit, and as an offensive line unit, to do whatever we can to get him as comfortable as possible early in games and then let him continue to be comfortable throughout the game."

As the Browns (0-0-1) prepare for a road trip to New Orleans, Jackson expects Harrison to take another step forward after getting his feet wet against a divisional rival. 

"I was excited about it being his first game," he said, "and playing against who he was playing."