Of all the people in Berea with something to prove to the totality of Browns fans, Pat Shurmur might very well top the list. Even with all the built in excuses and whether or not you care to take them into account, it is undeniable that Pat Shurmur hasn’t proven much yet. He appears to have the respect of his players. He seems to have the backing of his bosses Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert. Owner Randy Lerner still has his back as well, but this is the NFL. Even as Pat Shurmur was hand-picked by Mike Holmgren, another year of football like what we saw last year and those excuses that Holmgren was making on his behalf this off-season will be bullet points for why changes were necessary.
I am not one to bash a head coach in his first year with all the moving pieces and parts from a year ago. Even the things that I was counting on being in place seemed to break down. I think any coach would have struggled under the weight of the injuries the Browns experienced last season. Certainly, I was leading the charge amongst those who were skeptical about going into the season without an offensive coordinator. Shurmur also paid the price for many instances that I thought should have been handled above his pay grade, from the Peyton Hillis situation to the Colt McCoy concussion situation. In a lot of ways, I thought as much as Shurmur looked like a rookie head coach, he was also hung out to dry by his front office.
That was last year. Ryan Pontbriand is gone. Peyton Hillis is too. Brad Childress has been hired. Two offensive first-round picks have been dropped in the lap of an offensive-minded coach who is coming into his second year without any lockouts or labor strife with the players. Even with a high profile injury to Phil Taylor already on the books, there’s no way to say that the Browns shouldn’t be much further along than they were this time a year ago. They’ve had another draft and free agency to add their kinds of players to the pile. Even a question mark at the QB position isn’t looming as an excuse in the coach’s favor as he has plenty of time to work with all the guys and pick the best one that gives them a chance to win games and stay organized on offense.
That, more than anything else, is what I’ll be looking for this season. If the Browns fail to execute and score points, that’s one thing. Failing to score or execute in the red zone isn’t always the fault of coaching. It all depends on what it looks like and if they appear organized. I’ll be really concerned if they don’t control the tempo on offense. If the snap counts aren’t mixed up or if the plays are in danger of the expiring play clock all season long it will be telling.
It is impossible to say statistically what “good enough” looks like. Wins and losses are obviously the ultimate test, but anyone who watched every game last season knows that it goes a little bit deeper than just wins and losses. Regardless of the poor record, too often a year ago the team seemed unsure on offense. They lacked ability and talent, which weren’t the coach’s fault, but they also had lapses in just looking prepared and ready.
Even more than wins and losses, I’ll be looking for that this season from the Browns regardless of who is playing what position. That’s the burden of proof facing Pat Shurmur this year. Between the upgrades in coaching and player personnel it should be within his grasp. Of course if it resulted in wins it would be a whole lot easier for everyone.
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)