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Browns OL Spencer Drango 'ready for the moment' in 1st start for Joe Thomas

Every week in practice this season, Spencer Drango has been Cleveland's starting left tackle -- at least for the first couple of them.

The versatile second-year player filled the role on Wednesdays and sometimes Thursdays when Joe Thomas would take his customary days to rest, recover and prepare his body for the grind of his improbable consecutive snap streak. Drango worked alongside left guard Joel Bitonio in the same spot he occupied throughout his decorated career at Baylor.

When Drango got the call to do the same Sunday, when Thomas went down with a left triceps injury, it wasn't quite the serene setting of the team's practice fields in Berea. It was loud, the game was close and one of the NFL's better pass rushers, Brian Orakpo, was standing across from him, hoping to make the most out of the absence of one of the NFL's best left tackles.

Drango said he had no choice but to tune it all out and embrace his role as Cleveland's next man up.

"I had a pretty good idea about what Orakpo was going to do," Drango said. "New guy out there, he's a bull guy and I knew he was going to keep throwing that at me."

It won't get any easier for the new guy Sunday in London. Everson Griffen, who is third in the NFL with nine sacks, is slated to line up across from Drango in what will be the first start at left tackle by someone not named Joe Thomas since Dec. 31, 2006.

Kevin Shaffer is the answer to that trivia question. Drango will be the answer for the "after," and those around him believe he'll be able to handle the spectacle.

"I think he's ready for the moment. Obviously you can't replace Joe one for one. He's a Hall of Famer for a reason," Bitonio said. "He's focused, he's determined. He's a football player. He might not look the prettiest all the time but he goes in there and gets the job done. I think he's ready for the challenge.

"I know it's a big challenge but he's going to go in there and fight."

Since he arrived in Cleveland as a fifth-round pick last year, Drango has been tasked to learn four of the five positions on the offensive line (center excluded). It was a big change from his career at Baylor, where he starred as a four-year starter at left tackle and earned All-American honors during his final two seasons.

Drango entered last season in a similar spot as the team's first lineman off the bench and was quickly forced into action at guard because of a number of injuries and inconsistent performances at the interior spots. He appeared in all 16 games and started nine, gaining the kind of valuable experience he'll hope to apply in such a high-profile spot Sunday and beyond.

"I'm excited, nervous, all of (the emotions)," Drango said. "I think it is good to be nervous. Even Joe told us he still got nervous before games. It is something that I think it is important to be a little. You have to embrace it and use that as fuel."

Browns coach Hue Jackson said he'd talk to Drango at some point about the pressure he might feel about filling the spot previously occupied by Thomas. Jackson made it clear "those shoes won't be filled" but is confident "Spencer is going to go out there and compete."

Jackson has left open the possibility of reconfiguring the line after the upcoming bye week, but Sunday will be Drango's time to state his case for why he should be the player to replace Thomas for the rest of the season.

"The one thing I want our guys to do is to play as hard and as well as they can. That is all I ask, and then we will let the rest take care of itself," Jackson said. "Spencer has to battle, hold his own and when we can help, we will. That is just part of this game."

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