Cleveland has lost five starters for season

Updated: November 22, 2004, 4:25 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Just when it appeared things couldn't get much worse for the Cleveland Browns, mired at 3-7 and with embattled coach Butch Davis under heavy scrutiny, they did.

Ryan Tucker
Offensive Tackle
Cleveland Browns
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2004 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Ast Solo FF Sack Int
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One of the few bright spots for the Browns, right offensive tackle Ryan Tucker, will miss the rest of the season, the team learned Monday afternoon, after an MRI examination revealed that the eight-year veteran has a torn medial collateral ligament and a partial tear of the lateral meniscus cartilage of his left knee.

The injury occurred during the third quarter of Sunday's loss to the New York Jets, and club officials acknowledged after the game that it appeared serious. Tucker will have surgery once the swelling subsides, probably sometime next week, and will be placed on injured reserve for the rest of the year.

Tucker, 29, will become the 12th Cleveland player to land on injured reserve and the fifth starter to be lost for the season. He joins right guard Kelvin Garmon as starting linemen on the injured reserve list. Davis, who has been forced much of this season to shuffle his offensive line, will determine later in the week who will take Tucker's spot in the lineup.

One possibility is third-year veteran Joaquin Gonzalez, who started at right guard the past two weeks but moved outside to tackle Sunday when Tucker was injured.

It is expected that Tucker will be fully rehabilitated well in advance of training camp.

League observers agreed that Tucker, a former TCU star and onetime St. Louis Rams starter, was playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber level this season. One personnel director from another AFC team said Monday that he felt Tucker had significantly upgraded his game over the past two seasons, and rated him among the league's top 10 right tackles.

Signed by the Browns as an unrestricted free agent in 2002, Tucker has appeared in 37 games for Cleveland, all of them starts. He and left tackle Ross Verba were clearly one of the team's few strengths and had emerged as one of the NFL's top tandems.

In addition to the loss of Tucker, the Browns might be without starting quarterback Jeff Garcia on Sunday, when Cleveland plays at Cincinnati. Garcia suffered a strained rotator cuff that forced him out of the second half Sunday, and his availability this week will be reevaluated on a daily basis.

If Garcia is unable to play, backup Kelly Holcomb would get his first start of the season.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.