Next move?

Updated: 11:10 p.m.

Even if they don't play against each other in Sunday's "Battle of Ohio," Bengals safety Chinedum Ndukwe and Browns quarterback Brady Quinn have already fashioned a uniquely Ohio story.

When Ndukwe moved to Dublin, Ohio from Tennessee in the seventh grade, he joined the football team to make friends and Quinn turned out to be the second person he met in Ohio when Quinn walked over and introduced himself to the new kid.

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Ndukwe

"That tells you right away the character of the guy even at that age," Ndukwe reminisced after Thursday's practice. "I was the only African-American on the team and Brady had a real dark tan. It was in the summer. I thought he was Native-American and that's why he was embracing me. We're still close. He's a loyal guy."

They are no longer playing middle school football, but they find themselves in the middle of one of football's riveting stories heading into Sunday's elimination game of the AFC North tourney.

Quinn, the Browns quarterback of the future, may very well find it in Paul Brown Stadium as soon as Sunday against Ndukwe's defense. With incumbent Derek Anderson struggling, Browns coach Romeo Crennel told the Cleveland media on Wednesday, "Quinn will be ready. I'm not going to go into the what-ifs, the whens, the where, the how long or anything like that. The decision was made and that's what it's going to be. We're going to go forward."

Asked by the Cincinnati media the same day the length of Anderson's leash, Crennel said, "That's one of those what-ifs and I'm not answering any what-ifs about the quarterback."

To make it all the more intriguing, Anderson was virtually in this same situation when he faced the Bengals in the second game of the year last season. And he had such a horrid start that the Quinn era seemed to be ready on the next incompletion.

But Anderson regrouped and torched the Bengals secondary for five touchdown passes and 328 yards in a 51-45 victory. And while Ndukwe didn't play because of a hamstring injury, cornerback Leon Hall is never going to forget that second game of his rookie season.

"That was the craziest day ever; everything seemed to happen at once," Hall said. "Double moves. Busted coverages. Bad run fits. (Browns running back Jamal Lewis) had a ridiculous amount of rushing yards."

The count was 216, 114 of which came on three carries. And everything seemed to happen to Hall. He had a hand in the biggest run, the 66-yarder, when he came flying up the middle but stayed outside and let Lewis ramble through the middle.

Plus, he let wide receiver Braylon Edwards get behind him all alone for a 37-yard touchdown pass after the Bengals had crawled within 41-38.

But that was a long time ago. As the Bengals anticipated, Hall has grown into one of their most reliable leaders on defense and he says the rest of the defense has matured, too.

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Hall

"I'm smarter, more comfortable," Hall said. "I can see more of the field. It's not tunnel vision. I'm more comfortable with the guys. I think we're smarter as a defense. Our run fits are real tight."

By the time Anderson brought the Browns to PBS for the return engagement in December, Ndukwe was starting and he came up with two interceptions. He knows what happens if that happens again.

"I'd love to see him get in, because that must mean we're doing something right as a defense," Ndukwe said of Quinn.

The guy with the best scouting report on Quinn may end up staring across from him in center field on the other side of the line.

"He did get me to go out for the traveling baseball team," Ndukwe said.

Not only did they team up at Coffman High School in Dublin, Ohio, but Ndukwe and Quinn took their act to Notre Dame before parting ways in the 2007 NFL Daft. Ndukwe watched Quinn go No. 22 to Cleveland and then had to wait 231 more picks before he got the call in the seventh round from Ohio's other team.

They are still a team and hooked up for a memorable road trip just this past offseason.

"This is how big time he is now," Ndukwe said. "He had some kind of deal where he got a tour bus for free for a week. We left from Columbus and drove to the Super Bowl."

Ndukwe, his brother, Quinn, and four other buddies from high school and Notre Dame made the trek to Phoenix and back again.

"We lost one guy in Dallas and had to go back and get him and we had to go back through Houston to get Brady," Ndukwe said. "Something you always want to do and it was fun."

Ndukwe, who talks to Quinn once a week, chatted with him Wednesday night. Here's his scouting report.

"If he gets in, he'll be looking my way, I know that. The guy's a competitor. He's not going to slide. He won't run out of bounds. He'll take you on.

"If he gets in, I expect him to sling it. His biggest strength is he's a leader. He's calm, confident."

But that doesn't mean the gamesmanship hasn't already started.

"I told him their offense was simple and he said our defense is the same," said Ndukwe, who isn't going to bring up that he's got as many NFL interceptions as Quinn has NFL completions with three. "Quartebacks can play forever in this league. Safeties, you don't know how long you can play. Once he gets the opportunity, I don't think he's going to give it up any time soon."

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