BEREA — Despite the perception the Browns still need help at wide receiver, Pat Shurmur still is optimistic about the players currently on the roster.
“I think we have some guys, number one that are good players and I think they’ve had a chance to play a year in the system and to improve their game,” Shurmur said. “We’ve added some young players who have a chance to develop into good players.”
Shurmur feels improved quarterback play–likely by Brandon Weeden and running game led by Trent Richardson–will make a big difference for the receivers.
“When you have more efficient quarterback play and efficient running game, it all plays together,” Shurmur said. “For all of those reasons, I think they will be more productive as it fits together.”
Browns fans clamored for additions to the receiving corps in 2011 and the only notable addition was second-round draft choice Greg Little, who responded with 61 receptions for 709 yards and two touchdowns. Little has shed 11 pounds and the Browns are hoping he becomes a top receiver in the league.
Much the same was said this off-season, in terms of needing receivers, but the Browns thus far have failed to land a veteran receiver through free agency and the most notable addition was fourth-round draft choice Travis Benjamin from Miami (Fla.). Reports said the Browns pursued at least two free agents including Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, both of whom signed with the Redskins.
Mike Holmgren mentioned high expectations for fourth-year receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and Shurmur was asked about him, as well.
“I think he’s had a great off season,” Shurmur said. “I’m very pleased with where he is. He’s come in healthy. He’s taken advantage of the off-season and he’s made plays out here. That’s money in the bank for him as he gets ready for training camp.”
Massaquoi had just 31 catches for 384 yards and two touchdowns in 2011 in 14 games. He had 34 receptions for 624 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie and 36 catches for 483 yards and two touchdowns in 2010. He also was knocked out of a game with a concussion by the Steelers’ James Harrison. He also missed two games in 2011 with a concussion.
Weeden said he’s impressed with Massaquoi.
“We’re getting our timing down,” Weeden said. “I love the way he runs the comeback route.”
Shurmur said during OTAs last month that Little and Massaquoi are the starting receivers at this point heading into training camp.
Maasaquoi is healthy now and Josh Cribbs had his best season as a receiver with 41 receptions for 518 yards and four touchdowns. Jordan Norwood had 23 receptions for 268 yards and a touchdown and Carlton Mitchell caught just three passes for 31 yards.
Benjamin has flashed his speed in the OTAs and mini camps, but his role has yet to be determined. Other candidates are undrafted free agents Owen Spencer, Bert Reed, Jermaine Saffold and Josh Cooper. Rod Windsor was on the practice squad last season.
Weeden said he likes the receivers.
“I wasn’t here last year, but from what I see the group has a lot of ability and can play,” he said. “And not just the wide receivers, but we have a good group at the tight end position. That makes it easier for the quarterback.
“The group is still young and are going to keep growing and building.”
Shurmur feels the Browns have a chance for the quarterbacks and receivers to make each other better this season.
“The receivers have to get open and the quarterback has to get them the ball,” he said. “I do know with a receiver who gets open and a quarterback who gets the ball to him accurately, now you have a chance to do something with the ball.”
Dawson Back: K Phil Dawson was at minicamp after skipping the OTAs and booming kicks. He attempted one from 70 yards and was just short.
“Being away (this off-season) re-energized me,” he said.
Dawson was franchised for the second-straight year, but did say he hopes to finish his career with the Browns.
“Those are my thoughts exactly,” he said. “I’d like to finish my career here.
“There’s a right time and place for everything.”
Dawson said he figures it would take him about 2 ½ seasons to break Lou Groza’s career scoring record.
“That’s a goal I set in 1999.”
Room for All: Shurmur said he is not concerned that the running back position is too crowded with RB Trent Richardson, RB Brandon Jackson and RB Montario Hardesty. Also, RB Chris Ogbonnaya and RB Adonis Thomas are in the mix.
“There’s plenty of reps for everything we need to see,” he said. “They’ll all play and I’m not concerned about them getting reps.”
Shurmur was asked specifically about Jackson and Hardesty, both coming off of injuries.
“They’ve looked good,” he said. “They’re running around and they look fast.”
Mini Camp and OTAs: Tuesday was the first day of the three-day mandatory minicamp. Shurmur was asked what the difference was between the two.
“The way you practice is the same,” he said. “The only difference is we have a walk through before we practice.”
Shurmur said that all the players were in attendance, including K Phil Dawson, who had skipped the OTAs.
“Everybody is here and everyone is competing,” he said. “It’s a good setting for our guys. We’ve had six OTAs and we’ll revisit all the things we’ve done in the OTAs.”
Shurmur re-iterated not to read much into who gets the first snaps in team drills.
“I would encourage you when you’re watching–I know you want to get it out there–as to who the first guys are out there, but they’re just out there working.”
The Adonis: RB Adonis Thomas from Toledo was signed after trying out at the rookie minicamp and Shurmur was asked about him.
“He was here on a workout basis and felt good about what he did and since then he’s done the same thing,” Shurmur said. “He’s caught the ball well when we’ve thrown him the ball. He’s a bright guy who has a chance to compete.”
The Browns released RB Armond Smith to make room for Thomas.
Fujita Being Counted On: Shurmur said that despite the outcome of the three-game suspension for his role in the Saints Bounty Scandal, he is still a key player for the Browns.
“My interaction with Scott has been good,” Shurmur said. “I think we all as people have distractions in the background. Scott is a veteran player on our team and he’s an outstanding player. He’s dealing with a league issue and when Scott is back, he’ll play.”
Fujita said he was disappointed the arbitrator ruled that Roger Goodell had the authority to suspend him and the other players.
“It’s certainly disappointing, but it’s part of the process,” he said. “It’s ongoing.”
Fujita says he has no regrets for any of his actions.
Coming Along: Shurmur said the Browns are seeing what they expected out of rookie QB Brandon Weeden.
“I think we would all agree there is a high bar in this league,” he said. “What’s good about having an offseason when you draft a quarterback, but it allows you to get familiar with your surroundings. We’re seeing what we saw before we drafted him and in what we ask of him.”
Weeden said he is progressing.
“I’m getting more and more comfortable,” he said. “I’m leap years farther along than the rookie minicamp. It’s like two totally different quarterbacks from the beginning. Now, I’m able to stop thinking and react.”
New Role: With Brad Childress taking the burden of being the offensive coordinator off of Shurmur, the head coach now has more flexibility at practice.
“I think I have the freedom to do more, but tend to watch certain things,” Shurmur said. “Brad does a very good job directing the offensive coaches and players and does a very god job. Brad is very important for us.”
Return of T.J.: Shurmur said that S T.J. Ward is back to near the level he was when he was injured last season with a foot sprain. He missed the final eight games of the season and ended up on injured reserve.
“He’s looking good,” Shurmur said. “He’s running around playing fast and is playing like he did before he was injured. He’s back healthy.”
Shurmur said he thinks Ward can be a leader on the defense, despite just entering his third year.
“I still look at him as a young player,” he said. “We expect the young players to exert themselves and typically, you are more of a leader when they know what they’re doing.”
Benard Impresses: Shurmur said that DE Marcus Benard has shown up in the early going. He has dropped weight from last season and is listed at 256 pounds.
“That’s the first phase and he’s shown up and done some good things,” Shurmur said. “He’s put himself in good position for training camp.”
If Benard can add a significant pass rush opposite DE Jabaal Sheard or DE Frostee Rucker, the Browns will have much more depth than they did a year ago.