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.

It’s troubled.

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

are winning.”

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.”