Browns Face Dolphins, and McDonald Settles for Being Put on Hold

Times Staff Writer

It's not difficult to recite from memory Cleveland quarterback Paul McDonald's statistics this season. He has zero completions in zero pass attempts for zero yards and zero touchdowns, but neither has he thrown an interception.

McDonald was the Browns' starter in all 16 games in 1984, but this season he has been the third quarterback for a team that has used only two, Bernie Kosar and Gary Danielson.

For today, however, when the Browns play Miami at the Orange Bowl in an American Conference playoff game, McDonald has been graduated to the second team because of Danielson's torn rotator cuff, which will require off-season surgery.

So, if Kosar should go down with an injury, McDonald would, finally, get an opportunity to play. Not even he, McDonald said, would venture to predict the outcome of that, considering he hasn't taken a snap with the Browns' offense this week during their workouts at Dodgertown in Vero Beach.

Instead, he has spent this week the same way he has spent the previous four months, emulating the opposing team's quarterback, in this case, Miami's Dan Marino.

"If only I had Clayton and Duper, I might show them something," he said, referring to Marino's favorite wide receivers, Mark Clayton and Mark Duper.

If McDonald isn't called upon to play quarterback today, all he will be able to show the Dolphins is his ever-improving skill as the holder for field-goal and extra-point attempts.

When he left USC six years ago, he had something more special in mind for his NFL career than special teams.

It looked as if he might be ahead of schedule when he became a starter in his third season, taking the job away from Brian Sipe. Sipe won back the job in 1983, but it was all McDonald's last season after Sipe accepted the inevitable and signed with the USFL.

Finally secure in the position, McDonald was not average in 1984. But he was almost average. He completed 55% of his passes for 3,472 yards and 14 touchdowns, but he also threw 23 interceptions. His quarterback rating was 67.3, 12th among AFC quarterbacks.

In his favor, however, was the fact that he was more effective in the final seven games, after Sam Rutigliano had been replaced as head coach by Marty Schottenheimer. Schottenheimer's feeling was that Rutigliano asked McDonald to do things he wasn't capable of doing. With an offense more suited to McDonald's skills, his quarterback rating was 78.8, which would have placed him seventh in the AFC if it had been a 16-game figure.

McDonald looked forward to this season.

But the Browns made a complicated deal that enabled them to draft Kosar out of the University of Miami, and they traded for Danielson. Suddenly, McDonald was third man out.

That was literally where McDonald wanted to go, out.

But the Browns were unable to accommodate him. Now, with the 34-year-old Danielson's status for next season uncertain, the Browns might not think they can afford to trade McDonald.

And if McDonald can be assured that he will be the No. 2 quarterback in Cleveland, he might not be so eager to leave. However . . .

"Do you have a crystal ball?" McDonald said when asked what he believes the future holds for him. "I have no idea. It will be an interesting off-season."

As for what McDonald would like to have happen, he said: "That's a hard question. I'd like to be at a place where I can contribute. Everybody wants to play. But even if I go to another team, I'm not expecting that I can go anywhere where I'll play. I'd be in the position of starting over. But I just want to be with a team where I'm asked to contribute.

"I'm not opposed to being the backup quarterback. As you know, in this game, quarterbacks go down a lot. If you're the backup, you do get opportunities to play. If called on, I think I can go in and do reasonably well.

"I've played enough where I don't really need to play every week. Of course, I would like to play every week. But there are only 28 guys (quarterbacks) doing that."

McDonald, who lives in Orange County during the off-season, said ideally he would land with one of the two Los Angeles teams, although he said he believes that the Rams are satisfied with their three quarterbacks. He said his agent, Leigh Steinberg, contacted the Raiders during training camp, but they weren't interested. McDonald said he hopes the Raiders might reconsider after this season.

"I'll talk to the Browns and see what their plans are for me," he said. "It's obvious that Bernie is going to be their quarterback for years to come. I'd rather go to a team where I'm asked to play a larger role. But you never know what's going to happen. I could be satisfied here as the backup."

McDonald has made it a policy not to complain publicly about his situation.

"I don't want to create any distractions for the team," he said. "That's not my personality. If the situation was reversed, I wouldn't want the guy I'd replaced saying he thought he should be playing.

"It's been frustrating. I've gone from playing every game and taking every snap in practice to not doing a thing. Fortunately, human beings are adaptable."

Asked how Kosar has adapted, McDonald said: "He's gotten a lot better. His anticipation has improved from the beginning of the season. He's got a good arm. He's a smart guy. He's not very mobile, but everybody knew that."

Should Kosar have started so early in his rookie season, he was asked.

McDonald didn't answer immediately.

"I'm not in a position to answer that," he said. He sounded as if he didn't want to be put in that position, either.

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