3 CLEVELAND BROWNS

September 04, 2011

New coach, promising young QB and, finally, some hope

On the opening drill of practice this summer, Cleveland's defensive captain stepped into the huddle, began to relay the play and caught himself before he spoke. "I looked at the guys in front of me, and I literally had to do introductions with the whole defense, right there in the first huddle," outside linebacker Scott Fujita says. "Three of the guys, I didn't even know who they were. I say it lightly, but that was just the reality of it. I've never been on a team this young. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but it just emphasizes how important every rep is in practice."

The Browns need to be quick learners. Team president Mike Holmgren fired Eric Mangini after two seasons and a 10--22 record and brought in Pat Shurmur to resuscitate a franchise that showed some pulse in 2010 (back-to-back midseason wins over the Saints and the Patriots) before flat-lining (six losses in the final eight games).

The changes this year are substantial. Cleveland has installed a West Coast attack, shifted from a 3--4 defense to a 4--3 under new coordinator Dick Jauron and handed the reins of the offense to a young quarterback with an old soul, Colt McCoy. Shurmur's charge will be similar to what it was in St. Louis, where as coordinator he helped Sam Bradford become the 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year. "Physically, emotionally and how they're wired to play the position, there are a lot of similarities in Sam and Colt," Shurmur says.

Though McCoy, a 2010 third-round pick out of Texas, was just 2--6 as a rookie last season, with a middling 74.5 passer rating, he impressed the Browns with his maturity and poise—one veteran compared him with a "young Drew Brees"—during a season in which he started out third on the depth chart. In Week 6, McCoy began a brutally tough stretch against the Steelers, Saints, Patriots and Jets as a neophyte and came out as a leader. At the team meeting the night before his first start, at Pittsburgh on Oct. 17, McCoy stood and addressed the room. He told his teammates not to worry about him; he was ready to play. Though the Browns lost 28--10, McCoy completed 23 of 33 passes for 281 yards. "To get eight games under your belt is invaluable," says McCoy, who'll be 25 when the season starts. "Being able to learn from those games, some of the positives, some of the negatives, will be huge. Mike and Pat talk about it: 'That was a free eight games. Use that to your advantage.'"

Before the lockout Holmgren and Shurmur were in McCoy's ear about being prepared once the work stoppage was over. "Their message was, Don't take any steps back. Be the leader and be ready to go," says McCoy. "I'd never had an off-season in the NFL, so I didn't know what it was like, but I tried to treat it like what I thought it would be. We did a good job this summer."

During the lockout McCoy invited teammates to Austin to work out and also had them running drills at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, down the street from the Browns' practice facility. On some days Cleveland's locked-out players watched film of the West Coast offense, a version of which McCoy ran at Texas. The local media dubbed the practice sessions Camp Colt. (McCoy was embarrassed by the name.) Even some defensive players showed up, including cornerback Joe Haden.

"Colt's just a winner," says Haden, the Browns' first-round pick out of Florida in 2010. "He commands respect. He's the first one here and the last one to leave. Whatever he says, goes."

Cleveland faces Pittsburgh and Baltimore twice each in the final five games. In a way the Browns will have the autumn to prepare for those battles. They'll need it to further break in their new offense and their young QB. The receiving corps is thin and callow—the top returning wideout, third-year man Mohamed Massaquoi, had just 36 receptions—but McCoy can lean on productive weapons in eighth-year tight end Benjamin Watson, who had a career-high 68 catches in his first season in Cleveland, and fourth-year back Peyton Hillis, who broke out in 2010 with 1,177 rushing yards and 61 receptions.

Camaraderie and optimism are the order of the day in Cleveland. At Camp Colt in Austin, all-purpose threat Josh Cribbs caught up with a video team and expressed the prevailing the sentiment: "The Browns, 2011—we're on our way."

PROJECTED LINEUP

WITH 2010 STATS

OFFENSE

2010 Rank: 29

QB COLT MCCOY

ATT 222

COMP 135

PCT 60.8

YARDS 1,576

YD/ATT 7.10

TD 6

INT 9

RATING 74.5

RB PEYTON HILLIS

ATT 270

YARDS 1,177

REC 61

TTD 13

FB OWEN MARECIC (R)

ATT 23

YARDS 46

REC 9

TTD 5

WR MOHAMED MASSAQUOI

REC 36

YARDS 483

AVG 13.4

TTD 2

WR BRIAN ROBISKIE

REC 29

YARDS 310

AVG 10.7

TTD 3

TE BENJAMIN WATSON

REC 68

YARDS 763

AVG 11.2

TTD 3

LT JOE THOMAS

G 16

SACKS 4

HOLD 1

FALSE 1

LG ERIC STEINBACH

G 16

SACKS 4½

HOLD 0

FALSE 1

C ALEX MACK

G 16

SACKS 1½

HOLD 0

FALSE 0

RG SHAWN LAUVAO

G 10

SACKS 2

HOLD 1

FALSE 0

RT TONY PASHOS

G 6

SACKS 1

HOLD 1

FALSE 1

WR JOSHUA CRIBBS

REC 23

YARDS 292

AVG 12.7

TTD 1

RB BRANDON JACKSON

ATT 190

YARDS 703

REC 43

TTD 4

DEFENSE

2010 Rank: 22

DE JAYME MITCHELL

TACKLES 1

SACKS 1

INT 0

DT AHTYBA RUBIN

TACKLES 82

SACKS 2

INT 1

DT PHIL TAYLOR (R)

TACKLES 62

SACKS 2

INT 0

DE JABAAL SHEARD (R)

TACKLES 52

SACKS 9

INT 0

LB CHRIS GOCONG

TACKLES 74

SACKS 2

INT 0

LB D'QWELL JACKSON*

TACKLES 58

SACKS 0

INT 0

LB SCOTT FUJITA

TACKLES 51

SACKS 3½

INT 1

CB JOE HADEN

TACKLES 57

SACKS 1

INT 6

SS T.J. WARD

TACKLES 105

SACKS 0

INT 2

FS USAMA YOUNG

TACKLES 15

SACKS 1

INT 0

CB SHELDON BROWN

TACKLES 63

SACKS 0

INT 2

DB DIMITRI PATTERSON

TACKLES 44

SACKS 1

INT 4

SPECIALISTS

K PHIL DAWSON

FG 23

FGA 28

XP 28

PTS 97

P RICHMOND MCGEE†

PUNTS 35

GROSS 37.9

*2009 stats

†2005 college stats

BOLD: Projected starter

Italics: New acquisition

(R) Rookie: College stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

SACKS: Sacks allowed

HOLD: Holding penalties

FALSE: False starts

2011 SCHEDULE

2010 RECORD: 5--11

September

11 Cincinnati

18 at Indianapolis

25 Miami

October

2 Tennessee

9 BYE

16 at Oakland

23 Seattle

30 at San Francisco

November

6 at Houston

13 St. Louis

20 Jacksonville

27 at Cincinnati

December

4 Baltimore

8 at Pittsburgh (Thu)

18 at Arizona

24 at Baltimore (Sat)

January

1 Pittsburgh

COACH: PAT SHURMUR

AGE: 46

FIRST SEASON WITH THE BROWNS

The nephew of the late Fritz Shurmur, a longtime NFL defensive assistant, Pat Shurmur counts among his coaching influences Andy Reid (10 years as an offensive coach with the Eagles), Steve Spagnuolo (offensive coordinator in St. Louis the past two years), George Perles and Nick Saban (Michigan State tight ends coach). He's known for his attention to detail and agile mind.

SPOTLIGHT

SCOTT FUJITA, Linebacker

The Browns have swapped out defensive coordinators and schemes, bringing in Dick Jauron's 4--3 to replace the 3--4 of Rob Ryan. For help during the transition Jauron can rely on 10th-year outside linebacker Scott Fujita; among Cleveland's position players only cornerback Sheldon Brown has as long an NFL tenure. "I've had friends play for [Jauron], and they have so much respect for him as a man and as a coach," Fujita says of his new coordinator. "His reputation precedes the work he's done with us. Now it's just confirming everything I thought I knew about him."

Fujita missed the last seven games of 2010 with an undisclosed left knee injury but is back at full strength. In July he took it upon himself to get his unit up to speed on the new scheme, leading defensive workouts at Camp Colt in Austin and introducing younger players to Jauron's system. In the 4--3, Fujita will relish some added freedom. "When you look at this [scheme], you can compare it to the Philly, Chicago, Tampa Two style defenses," says the 6'5", 250-pound Fujita, who started for the Super Bowl champion Saints in 2009. "It's kind of a hybrid of those three. It lets athletes make a lot of plays. We were in a 3--4 last year with so many checks on a play-by-play basis that it was mentally exhausting. This year you line up, you might have a check or two, but for the most part it lets guys play fast."

PHOTOJOHN REID (SHURMUR) PHOTODAVID BERGMAN (MCCOY)STAND AND DELIVER Teammates are impressed with the take-charge persona of McCoy, who hosted the Browns' player-run drills in Austin during the lockout. PHOTOCHRIS GRAYTHEN/GETTY IMAGES (FUJITA)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)