|Colt McCoy is back for his second season as the Browns' quarterback after starting eight games as a rookie.|
BEREA, Ohio -- Mike Holmgren was brought in as the Cleveland Browns president to reshape this franchise, and his offseason hiring of Pat Shurmur as head coach was the first big step. Shurmur is a disciple of the West Coast system and really is an extension of Holmgren. Both men specialize in quarterback pla, and that leads to the No. 1 story at Browns camp, Colt McCoy. The Browns skipped quarterback in the draft and didn't sign or trade for any in free agency. They are moving ahead with McCoy.
McCoy is being groomed to lead the franchise. He's young and learning this offense for the first time. He clearly worked hard in the offseason to master the complicated terminology and, as he said to me after the morning practice, learn the nuances of the package.
I asked McCoy to call one his most complicated plays as if he was in the huddle, which he quickly did in a commanding voice before stopping and saying, "I forgot to call the protection."
McCoy acknowledged with a smile that he is a work in progress but insisted he has the mental toughness to master the offense. Will he master it before the season? Probably not with all the young receivers, running backs and tight ends learning along with him, but they will get it done.
Right now McCoy looks better in the shotgun than he does under center but was quick to point out that he is improving and actually likes being under center for most of the offense. My impression of McCoy after spending a day with him is that he's a young perfectionist who still needs to relax a bit and forget the last play and move on to the next one.
Holmgren may be the biggest asset in this area since he goes out of his way to have those talks with McCoy. The best news about McCoy came from Shurmur, who said they really haven't had to slow down installation of the offense for McCoy because he has a good grip on what is being thrown at him.
1. A lot of rookies are going to play. I rarely go to a camp this early in the preseason where so many rookies are already in position to start or play important roles. By the time we get to Week 1, there could be at least five rookies starting and another three to four playing in sub packages.
2. It is tough installing a brand new defense that had to be converted from a 3-4 to a 4-3. New defensive coordinator Dick Jauron is a very patient, quiet man with a wealth of knowledge about the conversion process, but it is still a difficult job. Linebacker Scott Fujita, leader of the defense, told me he's fine with the transition after playing for seven different defensive coordinators in 10 years. He also told me that when the first-team defense lined up in the huddle for the first time, he had to introduce himself to three players he had never met before. It may also take a while for pass rushers to surface from the new 4-3 defense.
3. Sooner or later, McCoy has to start taking all the reps. As I finished watching tapes and practice, it was clear that three quarterbacks share the reps. Shurmur explained it this way: "Say we have a 12-play period in practice. That means six plays for Colt, three for Seneca Wallace and three for Jarrett Brown." That's smart in OTAs, but it is just about time McCoy gets 80 percent of the plays if he's going to be ready. The coaches don't soon expect to change the percentage of plays each quarterback will get in preseason games or even in practice, but McCoy needs more work on fundamentals like his drop and pocket presence.
New guys to watch
1. Jordan Cameron: Maybe the steal of what appears to be a very good draft class. He didn't play much at USC, but the Browns did their homework on him and they have an all-around tight end with size, excellent route running, hands, and blocking ability.
2. Greg Little: When I sat down with the rookie wide receiver from North Carolina, I felt like I was sitting with a young Anquan Boldin. He weighs 240 pounds and has running back skills after the catch. He was clearly featured in the red-zone pass attack, but struggled to catch the ball. Holmgren feels Little is a natural hand catcher but he appeared rusty after missing his last season in college.
3. Jabaal Sheard: The rookie defensive end from Pitt has a fine inside move against a tackle. If he works hard on a speed rush and an occasional bull rush, he could be the real deal. It will be interesting to see how he holds up against the run at 268 pounds. I did ask him what it was like to go against all-pro tackle Joe Thomas every day. He said his record against Thomas is 1-13, but he also believes it is making him better.
4. Buster Skrine: No. 22, a rookie from Tennessee-Chattanooga, has been the star of the camp in the secondary. "He's real smart and already has picked up the defense," T.J. Ward said. He looks like the perfect guy to compete for the 'slot corner' job where he can use his quickness. He had a very nice anticipation interception during practice.
5. Phil Taylor: The first-round pick from Baylor has to be a part of a significant number of plays at defensive tackle and he has to learn to keep his balance. In all fairness, he has had just a few practices.
Unlike some camps that I visit that don't provide access to practice videos, the Browns not only set up the tapes for viewing but Shurmur also stayed in the room with me, Brad Childress and Tim Ryan for an hour to give us a clear idea of what they are trying to do on offense.
The Browns are looking for one of their receivers to emerge as the slot in the three-wide receiver package. They definitely have a nice plan for two or even three tight-end packages, and with Peyton Hillis in the backfield it could be dangerous when that personnel group hits the field.
The Cleveland fans may be restless and want a winner right now but they are going to have to be patient. This is an investment in young players and it will take time. Progress will have to be measured in ways other than wins and losses early in the season. The AFC North is not an easy place to be, but I think they could get six or seven wins.