The first day having the team together after more than three months away might not seem like a big deal to those on the outside, but it was a very big deal to Browns coach Pat Shurmur.
There were no offseason programs in the NFL last year because of the lockout. That meant no supervised conditioning or instruction until the start of training camp. Four hundred fifty nine days after being hired as head coach of the Browns, Shurmur on Monday finally got the chance to open an offseason program.
“It’s obviously exciting for me to have the players back in the building,” Shurmur said. “From what I can tell talking to the players, they’re excited to be back. For a lot of the veteran guys, their body clock said the offseason program began a month ago.
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“It gives you clarity knowing how much work needs to be done on the field in the latter part of May and June. I realize how important these can be so you can get your systems in place and refine it. The players have a chance to work together and develop a winning chemistry.”
The new CBA resulting from the negotiations during the lockout last year pushed the start of offseason programs back from mid-March to mid-April. Strict rules apply.
Players cannot be in the facility under the supervision of coaches more than four hours a day. After working out with the strength coach they can meet with their position coaches and coordinators, but on-field instruction doesn’t begin until April 30.
The head coach can’t even be in the weight room during the first two weeks. The entire offseason program is to last 10 weeks with nine weeks of coaching. Some teams might give players a week off in the middle of the program. Shurmur decided to give his team the week off at the end of the nine weeks.
The start of the offseason program, coincidentally, coincided with draft prospect Ryan Tannehill’s visit to Berea. The Texas A&M quarterback, whom the Browns are considering taking with the fourth pick, headed to Buffalo after visiting the Browns.
Quarterback Colt McCoy was among the players participating in the workouts from the start. Shurmur greeted him as he did other players but felt no need to talk McCoy off the ledge despite all the talk of Tannehill, Robert Griffin III and other quarterbacks.
“He’s doing fine,” Shurmur said. “I didn’t think (talking about Griffin and the others) was necessary. We greeted each other and started talking about what we want to get accomplished in the offseason more than any other business.”
McCoy does not seem flustered, judging by his recent tweets.
“Flight to Cleveland tomorrow settle in before the off season program excited to get to work with the team,” McCoy tweeted Saturday. On Sunday he added, “Driving to Cleveland. I’m pumped.”
Shurmur, emphasizing the offseason program is voluntary, said it was “an outstanding turnout.” He said some absent players called him to explain why they were not in Berea.
Browns accustomed to opening season at home
–For the 13th time in 14 years the Browns will open the season in Cleveland Browns Stadium. They host the Eagles in the opener on Sept.9.
–Each team has at least one prime-time game. The Browns, 14-34 over the last three years, get the minimum of bright light nights. They play the Ravens in Baltimore on Sept. 27, a Thursday.
–Browns linebacker Scott Fujita met with league officials on Monday to discuss bounties while he was with the Saints in 2009. Fujita admits paying teammates performance bonuses for such things as sacks and interceptions but he said he did not pay into a fund rewarding players for injuring opponents.
–Cleveland.com reported the Browns have taken calls from four teams inquiring about trading up for the fourth overall pick. Two were identified as the Rams with the sixth pick and the Eagles with the 15th pick.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “I’m very heavily involved and I talk to Tom every day.” – Coach Pat Shurmur, referring to his conversations with general manager Tom Heckert and his involvement in draft preparation.
Strategy And Personnel
Marcus Benard was a victim of the lockout last year. Benard was a linebacker under former coach Eric Mangini, but coach Pat Shurmur wanted him to play end in the 4-3 defense.
Benard bulked up and added about 20 pounds. He had to take the weight off, though, because Shurmur wants his ends sleek and quick. The problem was that with no offseason program last year and no communication between coaches and players, Benard had no way of knowing what Shurmur wanted.
Things got worse for Benard in September when he crashed his motorcycle and suffered a season ending hand injury.
The 2012 season promises to be better.
“He looks good,” Shurmur said. “I’m hoping to see the best of Marcus. I’ve seen him a couple of times through the offseason and he was there (Monday). I didn’t get a chance to watch in the weight room – I’m not allowed to be in there yet – but from what I heard, he performed well.”
Shurmur said there are no plans to move Benard back to linebacker.
Running back: The Browns are hopeful Montario Hardesty is over his injury problems (right ACL in 2010, calf tear in 2011) and Brandon Jackson is ready after missing all of 2011 with a toe injury. That’s a lot of hoping. The Browns scored a league-low four rushing touchdowns last season. Peyton Hillis scored three of them, and now he plays for the Chiefs. Trent Richardson from Alabama would be an immediate starter. David Wilson from Virginia Tech is another possibility.
Wide receiver: The Browns waited until the 59th pick to take wide receiver Greg Little last year. It would be a shock if they do not take one with one of their first three picks this year – 4, 22 or 37. Little led the Browns with 61 catches. He needs a running mate. Mohamed Massaquoi has proven in three years that he is not a No. 1 or even a No. 2 receiver. Kendall Wright is a possibility.
Right tackle: In terms of priorities, right tackle tops the list because the Browns just don’t have a legitimate starter on the roster. They can find a starter in the third or fourth round, but might not want to wait that long. Two names to keep in mind are Jonathan Martin from Stanford and Bobbie Massie from Mississippi.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: K Phil Dawson (tendered at $3.81 million); signed tender March 19.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
–P Brad Maynard did an excellent job filling in after the Browns lost two punters with injuries, but he won’t be back because Reggie Hodges has recovered from an Achilles injury that wiped out his season in training camp.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
–LB Titus Brown (not tendered as ERFA) is a solid special teams player and capable backup, but he is coming off a knee injury. Re-signing him is not a high priority.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
–OT Oniel Cousins: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
–K Phil Dawson: Franchise FA; $3.81M/1 yr.
–OG John Greco: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
–LB D’Qwell Jackson: Potential UFA; $42.5M/5 yrs, $7M SB/$1.3M RB/$3.4M base guarantee ’12/$3.6M base guarantee injury ’13.