No quick fix for Browns after 4-12 season

The growing pains were agonizing, the mistakes numerous, the

progress difficult to spot.

The Cleveland Browns had another one of those seasons.

Losing, though, has its rewards in the NFL, which compensates

its worst teams with high draft picks to help them get better.

After going 4-12, the Browns, with one of the league’s youngest

rosters, will have the No. 4 overall selection in April and

Cleveland fans are already frothing at the chance to bring in a

college star like Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III to be their

savior.

As he packed his bags for the offseason Monday, Browns

cornerback Sheldon Brown issued a warning to that line of

thinking.

”My thing is, if you’re dependent on a draft pick to come in

here and change your life, then you’re kidding yourself,” he said.

”This game is too hard.”

It certainly has been for the Browns, who haven’t made the

playoff since 2002. They’ve lost at least 11 games in each of the

past four seasons and a minimum of 10 in eight of the past nine.

Green Bay (15) won more games this season than the Browns (14) have

won in the past three seasons – combined.

And consider this stat: The defending Super Bowl champion

Packers outscored the Browns 560-218.

So while some think Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner, is the

answer to all of Cleveland’s prayers, Brown believes the Browns

already have the players they need to win consistently.

”The guys here have to step their game up to another level

because they’re experienced,” he said. ”Most rookies get hurt

because they get tired and they don’t understand the speed and the

strength of this game at the professional level. So I’m never sold

on high draft picks.”

It was a turbulent first season in Cleveland for coach Pat

Shurmur, who because of the NFL lockout didn’t have an offseason to

install his new West Coast offense or get to know his team on the

field. He made his share of mistakes, but Brown, who was previously

with Shurmur in Philadelphia, is confident Browns president Mike

Holmgren hired the right coach.

Shurmur has his detractors, but there’s no denying that the

Browns, who went 0-6 in the rugged AFC North, played hard for

him.

”He did a tremendous job,” Brown said. ”Everybody thinks it’s

an easy job, everybody wants to sit in a room and say, `I can do

this better, I can do that better.’ He dealt with the situations to

the best of my knowledge, the best he could, and he kept this

football team fighting. And for me, that’s how I judge a head

coach.

”If a football team goes out there and competes week in and

week out, through thick and through thin – and it was very thick

this year – but we didn’t quit. So that tells me that the leader is

in place.”

Shurmur will discuss his rollercoaster rookie year Tuesday, and

Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert are scheduled to meet the

media Thursday, when they’re sure to be grilled about the team’s

tricky quarterback situation.

Colt McCoy made 13 starts this season, but missed his final

three games with a concussion. The Browns have a better sense of

what McCoy is, and there’s a strong argument to be made for

sticking with him in 2012 after investing so much time into his

development.

But if the Browns – particularly Holmgren – don’t think McCoy

can take them to a Super Bowl, they may look for a starting QB in

free agency, a trade or the draft. With Stanford’s Andrew Luck

expected to go No. 1 overall to Indianapolis, the next best choice

could be Griffin, who resurrected Baylor and would be counted on to

do the same with the Browns.

Brown, for one, isn’t counting on Griffin to ride in to the

rescue.

”I’m definitely not, and if you are, you’re crazy,” he

said.

Crazy would describe Cleveland’s wild season, which included

costly injuries, endless drama around running back Peyton Hillis,

dropped passes, and tough losses. The Browns lost six games by

seven points or less, dropping their final three by a total of 13

points.

But close doesn’t put anything in the win column, and kicker

Phil Dawson, whose 13th season with the Browns may have been his

best, said the near misses can only help if players learned

something from them.

”We were in a lot of games. It’s death by inches, though,”

said Dawson. ”Are we that close, or is that just the nature of the

league? It depends on your personality, how you’re going to view

that. In my little world, if my plant foot misses the spot by a

quarter-inch, I miss the kick.

”That will probably tell you how I look at it. Everybody looks

at themselves critically and figure out how they can improve. If we

do that, now these close games are coming out in our favor.

Hopefully that’s the way guys respond to it.”

Brown, too, thinks the Browns are nearing legitimacy.

”We’re very close,” said the 10-year veteran. ”It’s one or

two plays each game. You just have to find the playmakers and they

just have to understand the sense of urgency and make the

play.”

That sounds like a broken record, but Brown said he hasn’t felt

this way before – not with the Browns.

”I didn’t tell you this last year,” he said. ”I thought we

were way off last year.”

The Browns put their franchise tag on Dawson this season and may

do so again. The 36-year-old said he had a positive exit interview

with team management and was encouraged by Heckert’s recent

comments that the team would like to have him back. It would be

hard to imagine the Browns not re-signing him.

Dawson has served his time – hard time – in Cleveland. The

Browns have gone 68-141 during his tenure, and Dawson would hate

not to be here when things finally get turned around. After waiting

so long, he would hate to miss out on the good times.

”I don’t want to be Moses,” he said. ”I don’t want to lead

the people right to the edge and not get to go in. There’s going to

be so many things, I can’t prioritize them at this point. We just

lost to the Steelers 20 hours ago and that still hurts. I need to

get home and eat a burrito.”

Hopefully, it will go down easier than this season.