Sometimes he throws the ball with both feet in the air, sometimes with both on the ground. He'll release the ball sidearm or overhand, equally hard either way.

Awkward, unorthodox, sometimes downright clumsy, the youngest starting quarterback in the NFL has a style all his own.

"Whatever it takes," is the secret to Bernie Kosar's success.

After a legal skirmish created when he left the University of Miami two years early -- with a degree in finance and a national championship in hand -- Kosar has a chance to quarterback the Cleveland Browns to their first playoff spot in three years.

The day before he made his first NFL start two weeks ago against Houston, Kosar, 21, said, "It seems like it was a long time coming, yet it's happening so fast."

He took over for veteran Gary Danielson in the first half of an Oct. 6 game at Cleveland Stadium. Danielson had bruised his throwing shoulder diving to make a tackle after an interception.

During a thunderous ovation from the crowd, Kosar fumbled away his first professional snap from center. Then he promptly completed his first seven passes and took the Browns to a 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots.

The next day, Danielson said something that was quoted around the country: "I could be out a week, or 15 years."

Kosar started the following week in Houston, making him the youngest NFL starting quarterback since Fran Tarkenton in 1961 with the expansion Minnesota Vikings.

After a sluggish first half against continual Houston blitzes, Kosar threw a 68-yard touchdown pass to Clarence Weathers that turned the game around. The Browns won the game, 21-6, and Kosar won the hearts of the Cleveland fans.

A sold-out crowd of 77,928 turned out in Cleveland last week and watched Kosar build a 20-14 lead against the feared Los Angeles Raiders. His streak was halted as the Raiders eked out a 21-20 victory, scoring the winning touchdown with 29 seconds remaining in the game.

It left the Browns (4-3) one game in front of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Central Division, and Kosar seemingly entrenched in the starting role going into this Sunday's game with the visiting Washington Redskins.

In his first full season since taking over as head coach from Sam Rutigliano, Marty Schottenheimer was being cautious. "There will not be a quarterback derby because as soon as Gary is well I will make a decision and that will be the one that we'll go with," he said.

Danielson, 34, who was acquired last May from the Detroit Lions, still is suffering from the shoulder injury, but indications are that Schottenheimer will stay with Kosar.

"One thing he does as well as anyone I've seen is throw the deep pass with tremendous accuracy," Schottenheimer said. "And his poise at 21 years old is simply amazing."

"In the huddle, he's not a rookie," said Weathers. "I played under Tony Eason as a rookie and he never said things in the huddle like Bernie does. He tells you when you did something wrong. He tells you how to do it right."

Kosar's statistics belie the impact he's had on the Browns. In 2 1/2 games, he's completed 27 of 55 passes for 452 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

But the Kosar-to-Weathers hookup has given the Browns' run-oriented offense a big-play combination that has accounted for completions of 68, 57, 32 and 21 yards.

Mobility was supposed to be the one thing the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Kosar lacked. But he has been sacked only two times and has shown the ability to escape a rush and throw successfully on the run.

After he dodged a Houston blitz, rolled left and lofted a perfect pass to Weathers that went for 57 yards, Danielson said, jokingly, "I don't mind if he throws better than me, but I don't expect him to scramble better, too."

Still, Schottenheimer finds fault in Kosar's footwork.

"He got to get his feet set so he can throw on time and with the proper mechanics," he said. "Sometimes he doesn't do it. He certainly did it as a freshman at Miami, but I noticed not so much as a sophomore. It's matter of letting him know what has to be done.

"It's important to understand we have been very pleased with Bernie's play. He has improved each week and has a passing grade as far as his individual performance is concerned. I feel the only way to get better is to play. Bernie's progress will be multiplication, not addition."

After he came within 30 seconds of defeating the Raiders -- which would have made him the first rookie quarterback to do so since Jim Plunkett (then with New England) in 1971 -- Kosar was asked to grade his no-interceptions performance.

"The main thing is we lost. That's the way I judge myself," he said.

The rookie was talking like a veteran.