Monday morning brought the unusual sight of a

By David Carducci Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Monday morning brought the unusual sight of a little-known, second-year player named Tarek Saleh holding court in front of a sea of television cameras, microphones and rolling tape recorders.

Saleh, a one-time linebacker who switched to fullback only a month ago, created the biggest noise of training camp when he delivered a thunderous hit on one of those high-profile guys _ linebacker Chris Spielman _ during Sunday's afternoon practice.

The head-on collision left Spielman staggered like a heavyweight fighter who had walked into a right cross. It also sent the local hero from Massillon and Ohio State to the hospital.

Spielman, who has not played football since having surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his neck together in 1997, skipped Monday's morning practice to have a "precautionary" MRI examination at the Cleveland Clinic.

"Chris wanted to have it checked out," said Browns head coach Chris Palmer. "One of his concerns was that when he had the neck injury before, he waited too long (to have it examined). Chris came in and saw me first thing (Monday) morning around 6:30 and wanted to talk about it, and I assured him, 'hey there is no problem. Go ahead and get an MRI and put your mind to rest.' He had no pain. He had no problems."

Six hours after the exam Spielman was back in full pads, ready to take part in the afternoon practice.

"It turned out all right, in fact the X-rays were a little bit better than they were in February when I first came (to Cleveland)," said Spielman, who played with the injured neck for two games with the Buffalo Bills back in 1997 before finally having it examined. "It's something that gives you a little bit of piece of mind after you go through something like that, and it's probably a good thing to happen to get that out of the way and just move forward.

"When you are talking about neck injuries, and after witnessing one live and in person (when then-Detroit Lions teammate Mike Utley was paralyzed in a game in November of 1991) and seeing how dangerous they can be, you can never be too cautions."

For Spielman, who is returning to football after a two-year absence during which he recovered from his own injury and helped his wife Stefanie in her battle with cancer, the collision was the first test in his comeback.

"If you didn't see it, or maybe didn't appreciate it, on a scale of 1-to-10, it was a 10," said Palmer. "It was a great hit. If (Spielman) can survive that, there is no problem. I saw him in the weight room afterwards, and he said, 'boy I got the rust knocked off me. I haven't been hit like that in three or four years.' "

Spielman said he "preferred to look at it as I gave the hit and not took the hit." The claim prompted laughter from a group of assembled reporters.

"I'm serious," he said. "I don't know what you're laughing at."

Saleh, however, may have taken a large step toward filling a key role on the Browns in taking the better end of a collision with one of the league's fiercest defensive players.

"What we are looking for is (a fullback) who can be a blocker," said Palmer. "No one has gone up in there and hit anybody like Tarek. Right now, as far as looking for a player to fill a role, Tarek is ahead in that race."

Saleh, a three-year veteran from the University of Wisconsin, came to the Browns as a linebacker but was switched to fullback during a minicamp in late May.

"I thought switching to fullback was a great idea," said Saleh. "I played fullback and linebacker in high school, and I played fullback on the scout team last year (with the Carolina Panthers). There is a lot of talent on this team at linebacker, and we are a little light at fullback. They wanted me to make the switch, and I wanted to make the switch, especially if that's what it takes to play."

Despite delivering the first major blow of training camp, Saleh cautioned he can not "rest on my laurels after just one hit."

"I am just learning to play fullback," said Saleh. "It's a gradual process. I have to learn to make hits like that day in and day out if I want to be consistent. Constancy is the key, especially if you want to play in this league for a long time."

While Saleh hoped for a long career in the NFL, Spielman was forced to spend Sunday night contemplating the possibility of ending his brilliant career if Monday's MRI carried bad news.

"I've been through so much this past year, I thought to myself, just in case for a what-if scenario, if it's not good and you can't play football any more, you know what, my wife is alive today," said Spielman. "That brought a smile to my face."

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