Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Browns coach: Best QB will play in '12
BEREA, Ohio -- Browns coach Pat Shurmur may let his new offensive coordinator call plays next season.
And, there's a solid chance Shurmur will have a different quarterback running them.
Shurmur would not commit to Colt McCoy as his starter in 2012, leaving the team's plans at the vital position open for speculation as Cleveland heads into an offseason hoping to improve a team that won just four games and was the only AFC North member to miss the playoffs.
Shurmur wrapped up a trying first season as Browns coach with a news conference Tuesday, and the main topic of discussion was the future of McCoy, who started 13 games before sustaining a concussion and missing the last three.
Shurmur said McCoy showed improvement, but declined to name him his starter for next season.
"As we go forward here with Colt, he's done some really good things," Shurmur said. "Get him back healthy, get him in an offseason where he has a chance to develop. I expect that Colt will improve just like I expect (backup QB) Seneca (Wallace) will improve and whoever the quarterbacks are here. I think that can be said for all positions, so the best quarterback will play when we start the season."
Pressed on the team's plans, Shurmur declined to reveal if the Browns will pursue a quarterback in free agency, trade for one or select one in the draft.
McCoy went 4-9 as a starter, but had his year ended by a vicious hit from Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison on Dec. 8, a helmet-to-helmet blow that triggered the NFL to place certified trainers in the press box to help assess injuries.
Before he was hurt, McCoy made steady progress in a West Coast offense Shurmur believes takes more than one season to master. Shurmur was asked for specifics in the areas where McCoy showed the most growth.
"The game starts in the huddle with the play call, being able to direct things, get guys lined up," Shurmur said. "I saw him become more efficient on some of the basic progressions. I saw him make some better plays outside the pocket later in the year better than he did earlier in the year. Leadership, being able to get guys lined up properly.
"All the real things you're looking for from a quarterback."
Browns general manager Tom Heckert and Mike Holmgren may bring more clarity to McCoy's prospects to remain Cleveland's starter when they meet with the media Thursday.
As expected, Shurmur plans to hire an offensive coordinator. Unable to find the "right" offensive mind last winter, Shurmur held both roles in 2011 with mixed results. His playcalling, particularly in the red zone, was widely criticized and there were times it appeared he had taken on too much responsibility.
There were notable gaffes during the season where Shurmur may have benefited from another trusted assistant.
Shurmur said his new offensive coordinator could come from his current staff or "outside the building."
"I want to hire the best coordinator I can. That's the goal," said Shurmur, adding he is not currently expecting any other changes to his staff.
Shurmur declined to identify potential candidates. A possibility is former Minnesota coach Brad Childress, whom Shurmur worked with in Philadelphia.
"I know Brad very well," Shurmur said. "I think he's a terrific coach, but I'm going to keep my list of candidates private. We're going to work quickly, but I'm not going to be hasty. I want to get the right guy. And by not hiring a guy this year, it's because I wanted to make sure I got the right one. That's a relationship that's very, very important and so I want to make sure we do it right."
Also, Mike Sherman, who worked on Holmgren's staff in Green Bay, could be on Shurmur's short list.
Depending on whom he hires, Shurmur said it's possible he would relinquish playcalling duties to his offensive coordinator.
"Calling plays, that's a fun thing for all of us to do, and I want to get the best guy I can," he said. "And if he's outstanding at calling plays, listen, I want to win games and so I'm going to get the guys in there that are going to help us do that."
Shurmur acknowledged that a candidate familiar with the West Coast offense could have an advantage.
"I'm trying to find the best guy, so a guy who speaks our language, so to speak, might have a leg up," he said.
Along with McCoy, running back Peyton Hillis' outlook in Cleveland is just as uncertain.
Hillis, who rushed for 1,177 yards in 2010, had a dramatic and injury-filled season that only improved in the final weeks when he ran the way he did a year ago.
Shurmur said he had a "great conversation" with Hillis during the bruising back's exit interview. Hillis is eligible to become a free agent, and although he wants to re-sign with the Browns, it's not apparent that the team wants him back.
Shurmur was reluctant to speculate on any plans involving Hillis.
"We just had a chance to sit down and really talk about what happened during the year," Shurmur said. "We had an All-Star player that we had high hopes for that got injured and then I watched him fight back from injury and I watched him compete well at the end of the season. We talked about those things and how a season can be a mini-journey. As we move forward, we're just hopeful it works out for everybody."
Shurmur is excited about the opportunity to have a structured offseason after his first months as Browns coach were altered by the labor lockout. Nothing surprised him during his first season as a head coach, and there is only one thing he would do over if he could.
"Win more games," he said. "That's what we're in this to do. I wish as we moved through the season we won."