BEREA, Ohio - Reports have surfaced that Browns defensive tackle Shaun Smith punched quarterback Brady Quinn in the face last week in the weight room after a verbal spat, and there are strong indications the reports are true.
Jim Donovan, the team's play-by-play announcer and a Cleveland sports anchor for a local newscast, first reported the punch on Sunday evening. Then, yesterday morning, Darnell Dinkins confirmed on a local talk show that an altercation took place between the two and that Quinn had a mark on his face as a result. Dinkins said on the morning show that coach Romeo Crennel was "very upset" about the incident and that he took swift action.
But one of the strongest signs it really did happen was the fact that Crennel did not deny it yesterday in his news conference. His most telling quote was, "If it happened, it stays in-house."
Crennel also lent credence to the reports when he said Smith was inactive for Sunday's loss to the Bengals because of a coaches' decision. Smith didn't practice all week because of a calf injury and was listed as doubtful for the game, but that's not believed to be the reason he was idle - at least not the whole reason.
Crennel also said Smith would be available for the season finale in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
"Any rumors or any deals about altercations, I never talk about family business," said Crennel. "I haven't talked about family business since I've been here. So I'm not going to address it at this point or start talking about it."
Smith, who's known for trash-talking his teammates during the week to keep things interesting, has had at least one other confrontation with a teammate this season. Apparently, not everyone takes his ribbing in good fun. Earlier this season, he verbally sparred with an offensive lineman, and the player had to be held back.
"Guys get heated at practice," said Crennel at the time. "There were no fights or anything at practice. He's a defensive lineman. He's going against an offensive lineman, so sometimes guys get heated. There was no fight involved. There was some discussion involved, but no fight."
According to a source close to the team, Smith started jawing at Quinn, and Quinn shot back and incited Smith. Smith then punched him in the face, according to Donovan's report.
Crennel acknowledged Smith's chatter isn't always well-received. He's been chiding his teammates, mostly offensive guys, since early in training camp. "Yeah, sure, it could potentially rub a guy the wrong way," said Crennel.
Asked if he'd fine a player for an altercation, Crennel said, "Potentially. It just depends. You'd have to look at all the background if that were the case."
Smith would not speak to reporters in the locker room last Thursday and seemed testy. Still, Crennel said he hasn't had many altercations between his players this year.
"In a family you always have some disagreements, and they get handled within the family," he said. "I've got one brother and three sisters. When we were growing up we had altercations. That's part of being a family. You deal with them and you move on. That doesn't mean I dislike my brother or I dislike my sisters. That's part of being in a household, everybody trying to establish their turf. But that's part of it. You deal with it and you move on."
Making Smith inactive instead of suspending him may have been a way to avoid getting the NFLPA involved, because players routinely appeal their suspensions. It also may have been an attempt to keep a potentially volatile situation quiet. A player punching the franchise quarterback in the face - one who's already on injured reserve because of a surgically-repaired right index finger - is another black eye for an organization that's had one controversy after another this season.
If he'd been suspended, he also would've had to forfeit a game check.
Everyone associated with the situation is in complete lockdown. Even WQAL wasn't permitted by its parent company, CBS radio, to replay the Dinkins audio. All other parties involved either declined to return messages or replied "no comment."