Browns suffer through growing pains under Shurmur
Pat Shurmur stood near the middle of the indoor practice field
with one hand on his hip, the other clutching a rolled up play
sheet like a track star holding a relay baton.
As Cleveland’s first-year coach prepared the Browns for their
ninth game, this one against his former team, Shurmur took stock of
his young team’s current state.
With key injuries mounting, an offense that can’t move the ball
or score, a second-year quarterback taking far too many hits every
Sunday and a portion of Cleveland’s fan base already wondering if
he was the right man for the job, Shurmur has a lot on his plate.
But despite his team’s numerous problems at the season’s halfway
point, Shurmur remains upbeat.
He has no other choice.
”I’m really enjoying it, believe it or not,” Shurmur said
Wednesday, a wide grin creasing his face. ”I probably don’t show
it. I’m enjoying the interaction with the coaches. I’m enjoying
working with the players. I enjoy the process. I’m a very impatient
guy. I don’t enjoy the results yet. People around me need to just
tell me to keep going and relax.
”I don’t tend to listen to that very well.”
Maybe it’s time he starts.
The Browns (3-5) began practicing for this week’s game against
the Rams (1-7) missing some vital parts.
The club’s top two running backs, Peyton Hillis (hamstring) and
Montario Hardesty (calf), didn’t practice and will both sit out
Sunday’s game with injuries. It’s still not known when either will
be back in the lineup. Also, starting strong safety T.J. Ward has a
cast on his injured right foot and will likely miss this week’s
game – and maybe more.
Also, starting wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi was again sent
home as he continues to experience symptoms from a concussion on
Oct. 23, his second head injury in 13 months.
Beyond that, the Browns were without safety Usama Young, nickel
back Dimitri Patterson and starting right tackle Tony Pashos, who
was limited because of an ankle injury that has nagged him all
The Browns are certainly not the only team dealing with medical
issues, but there’s not another squad in the league playing two
running backs that have been on the roster for less than a month
combined. Chris Ogbonnaya and Thomas Clayton have barely been
around long enough to know everyone’s names.
”We could spend all day talking about injuries and what-ifs and
if who was here,” said quarterback Colt McCoy, who survived a
pounding in Houston on Sunday. ”As a team, you can’t afford to do
that. You can’t do that; we don’t have time to do that. We’ve got
to go out and play with what we’ve got.”
What Shurmur’s got right now is a young, inexperienced team –
the Browns began the season with a league-high 17 rookies and
first-year players – going through the growing pains that come with
learning how to win. Without much depth, Cleveland has been forced
to start players who would otherwise be learning by playing in a
limited role or watching from the sideline.
But Shurmur can’t – and won’t – use the injuries as an excuse.
He was hired by president Mike Holmgren to turn things around, and
it’s his job to do it no matter the obstacles. His charge is to
develop the Browns, teach them, nurture them, and if everything
goes according to plan, win with them.
Shurmur acknowledged the challenge in developing and winning at
the same time.
”It’s difficult. But I think what you do is you come to work
each day and try to get better at something, get better at
something, get better at something,” he said, pretending to stack
the improvements, ”and then pile it all up and then find a way to
win games. What is interesting is we all take notes, as coaches we
take notes and track our years. I went back and looked at our first
year in Philadelphia and we didn’t have great success. We were
developing Donovan McNabb. We were really good on defense. St.
Louis we had a tough year the first year.
”You go back, try to replay the games and the emotions of it
and try to learn from it like we all do. We’re fighting through
Shurmur is punching his way through a lot.
Along with the injuries, Shurmur, who spent the past two years
as the Rams’ offensive coordinator, has had other distractions
during his first year as a head coach. The labor lockout put the
Browns at a disadvantage as it limited the amount of time Shurmur
had to install his West Coast offense. His only interaction with
many of his players was on game film, forcing Shurmur and his staff
to quickly learn about what they had to work with when camp
The results have been poor.
Cleveland’s offense enters Sunday’s game ranked 30th overall.
The Browns have been outscored 58-6 in the first quarter and are
the only team in the league that hasn’t scored a touchdown in the
first and third quarters. McCoy was battered last week by the
Texans, who exploited rookie offensive guard Jason Pinkston and had
clear shots at Cleveland’s QB when his new backs didn’t pick up
The Browns’ defense, solid for much of the season, was gashed
for 261 rushing yards by the Texans, whose zone-blocking scheme
baffled Cleveland’s young defensive linemen.
”Sometimes,” McCoy said, ”growing pains aren’t that
Shurmur’s feeling them. However, he remains confident better
days are ahead.
Right now, they seem far away.
”You want results,” he said. ”The results in this business
Notes: WR Jordan Norwood is heartbroken by what has happened at
Penn State, his alma mater. The child-abuse scandal at the school
has been painful for Norwood, who is especially close to the
football program. He played four seasons (2005-08) in Happy Valley
and his father, Brian, now at Baylor, coached the Nittany Lions’
secondary for seven years. ”I’m feeling a part of it, too,” he
said. ”There is no doubt it’s tough and unfortunate, more so for
the young men and young boys that were involved.”