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Colt not gun-shy about taking leadership reins in Cleveland

BEREA, Ohio - Back in May when the owners were meeting in Indianapolis, and the lockout was in full swing, Mike Holmgren left the door slightly ajar on Cleveland's quarterback situation. The Browns president told me he expected it to be "competitive" at the position, while adding that Colt McCoy would "probably be the guy."

Consider that door slammed shut and erase the word "probably" from Holmgren's assessment. The Browns are McCoy's team.

Does that mean for the next decade? Not necessarily. But for now, the quarterback's teammates have no problem deferring to the 24-year-old. One example? The move McCoy made in the offseason getting his hands on new coach Pat Shurmur's playbook.

It's not unlike the one that then-Denver coach Mike Shanahan taught Peyton Hillis when the Browns running back (and Madden cover boy) was a rookie with the Broncos, but when it came to disseminating the message to teammates, the bulldozing back cleared the way for McCoy, rather than taking the ball himself.

"Colt did a great job with it. I left it to him," said Hillis, who's coming off an 1,177-yard, 11-touchdown season. "He's the leader of this team, and I accept that. Everyone else accepts that. So when he's trying to teach receivers the routes and progressions, you just sit back and try to listen and try to learn from it."

So how is it that McCoy, who has precisely one season as a pro, could teach the Browns' system? Part of it is the little bit of carryover in scheme from what he did as a four-year starter at Texas. But bigger is the fact that McCoy exhausted every resource available to get it down as the doors were locked, something that also played no small role in his teammates gravitating to the idea of a second-year guy as their leader.

And evidence of that happening was most clear in the number of offensive players first, and later guys on both sides of the ball, attending his offseason "camps." He had one at Baldwin-Wallace College, which is next to the Browns facility in Berea, and three more 1,400 miles from Cleveland in the Austin area -- one at his alma mater, and the others at nearby Westlake and Cedar Park high schools.

Nearly 40 Browns made the trek to the final session in Texas, showing the success of the project, which had veteran Scott Fujita as its defensive anchor.

"For me, going into my second year, and really for the first time having an offseason, when that's taken away, it's tough," said McCoy, who's taken every first-team snap through two weeks of camp. "I think when I left, it was like, 'Well, we don't want to have a setback when we come back.' So it was kind of on me to get things organized, get things put together. And I really commend the guys on offense for flying around. It's on our own time, on our own money.

"We pitched in and helped some guys get in. But we worked really hard. I had the playbook and we went over some things. And people ask me all the time, 'How good was it?' And I don't think it's going to win a game for us in December. In fact, I know it's not.

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"But the fact is we understand personnel groups, we understand formations, we understand where we're supposed to line up. This offense is a lot about spacing, and so when we were together, we spent as much time meeting as we did going out on the field and throwing. It was definitely good for us. And you could tell the first few days (of camp) we were ahead."

It only works, of course, if McCoy knows what he's doing, which he certainly did.

The biggest challenge for the quarterback has been learning Shurmur's West Coast nomenclature. McCoy says there are at least five play calls the coach has that are 20 syllables long and, as such, he spent time reciting those in front of a mirror, as if he were in the huddle.

Additionally, he studied a ton of tape of West Coast quarterbacks, going back to Joe Montana (once coached by Holmgren) and forward to Aaron Rodgers, who sets the bar for McCoy in terms of running the modern day version of the scheme. And he taught what he'd learned enough for Shurmur to say, "In the first installations you saw carryover, where guys said, 'Yeah, we know this and we know this.'"

And there was one other resource you might not expect: one-time adversary from the other side of the Red River, ex-Sooner and current Ram Sam Bradford.

Bradford, of course, was brought along by Shurmur last season, while McCoy played in Brian Daboll's New England-style attack as a rookie, something analogous to the system Josh McDaniels is bringing to Bradford and the Rams. So McCoy and Bradford, friendly since college, spent time on the phone going over the finer points of each attack after the two, in essence, traded offenses.

As McCoy puts it, it was quarterbacks "going over different things, different plays, different looks vs. the plays. We were able to share some things, some thoughts, and that certainly will help."

As someone who's now coached them both, Shurmur sees similarities between the two.

"I've said it before, this isn't their first go at it," Shurmur said. "Playing at places like Texas and Oklahoma, they played a big-time level of ball and had success. It was written recently that Colt really hadn't lost many games as a starter, from grade school on up. So there's something about a guy who knows how to win."

Which brings us to the other element of McCoy's offseason work -- bringing the players around him together. When the players were in Austin, they took a trip to the renowned Salt Lick Barbecue Restaurant, and even took turns on a mechanical bull (center Alex Mack stayed on longest). Back in Cleveland, the guys went to an Indians game together after a workout.

The idea isn't tough to figure out.

"I only played with those guys eight games last year," said McCoy. "I don't think any of them really knew who I was. I was 'Colt from Texas' for the first six weeks of the season, because I wasn't getting anything (playing time) with them. I think this summer definitely gave us the opportunity to grow and learn with each other and spend some time together, not only meeting and going over football stuff, but away from that. It was really good."

It remains to be seen whether McCoy will become "really good" as a quarterback. But there's no question he's doing all he can to make that happen. And there's just as little doubt that plenty of folks in Berea have taken notice.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @albertbreer.

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