The Cleveland Browns are offering us many reasons to believe they are an improved team.
If you’re nervous that is too many shiny new toys to incorporate all at once (and you should be), don’t worry, because the Browns will also have a full offseason at their disposal. One of the great invisible suspects of last season’s failure will be accounted for this time around.
And with that, a less spoken about issue lies: will Pat Shurmur improve as a head coach?
You might have forgotten amidst all the other changes the Browns have made, but Shurmur was a wreck last year. His performance at times left fans wondering, seriously, if he was under orders to preserve a high draft position for the Browns.
- The Browns were beat napping in their season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on a quick-snap touchdown from Bruce Gradkowski to A.J. Green – a symbol of the season to come.
- In a loss to the St. Louis Rams on November 13, Shumur inexplicably called for a goal line hand-off to backup tight end Alex Smith, which he promptly fumbled. Shurmur later admitted he was confused at the time and didn’t know who was on the field and which players were available.
- That same game, same series, the Browns never threw the ball in the end zone from inside the Rams’ ten-yard line. Toothlessly playing for the field goal, which long snapper Ryan Pontbriand botched, cost the Browns a game against a team that would end up winning two total games.
- Allowing Arizona Cardinals specialist Patrick Peterson to beat them on a punt return in overtime on December 18 also cost them a winnable game.
- On December 24 against the Baltimore Ravens, the Browns staff embarrassed itself with poor clock management to close out the first half, as a failed Peyton Hillis run allowed the clock to expire without a timeout left to save it.
- And, finally, let’s not forget the black eye the entire organization suffered in the mismanagement of Colt McCoy’s concussion at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 8.
The Browns would probably like to chalk all of these blunders up to a disastrous season where they had simply too much working against them: Shurmur being a rookie coach, new offensive and defensive schemes, the strike-shortened offseason, a lack of talent, etc.
It’s interesting, then, that the Browns would add so much to their offense in one summer and expect history to not repeat itself.
Sure, there actually was an offseason this year, the offensive and defensive schemes are no longer new, Shurmur’s got a year under his belt and he’s got more help on the sideline with the addition of Brad Childress. But there is an added element of pressure and uncertainty on the table that is new this year.
Shurmur is in uncharted territory. He’s the only NFL coach trying to assimilate a 28-year-old rookie quarterback to his complex scheme (or, one that was complex last year when it failed). He’s the only head coach who needs to make a starting receiver out of a guy who hasn’t played a down of football in two years.
He’s juggling what we hope will be four impact rookies on one side of the ball. And because of Brandon Weeden’s age, the way they acquired Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft, and by trading up for Trent Richardson, the Browns have declared development time to be short. This means Shurmur is also on notice to clean up all of the blunders listed above.
The point is, specific and noticeable improvement in coaching is not a foregone conclusion just because they’ll have a full offseason this time. Replacing Peyton Hillis’ sore throat, Colt McCoy’s noodle arm, Brian Robiskie’s metal feet or Tony Pashos’ entire body will help, but it won’t eliminate a new host of obstacles this most recent Browns installment must face.
And if Pat Shurmur does not improve as a head coach, all the new toys in the world won’t make a difference.