The NFL lockout deprived Pat Shurmur of an offseason in his first year as Browns coach. So he was filled with extra enthusiasm Monday for the start of the team’s offseason program, even if the rules in the new collective bargaining agreement have limited the length and scope of the workouts.
“I’m excited, it’s exciting,” Shurmur said in a conference call with local media. “For coaches to see players back, that’s an exciting thing.
“From what I could tell, talking to the players, there’s excitement to be back.”
Receiver Greg Little, who’s entering his second season, echoed the sentiment.
“Great feeling to be back around the team a incredible excitement and vibe! #GoBrowns,” he tweeted.
The new rules governing offseason programs pushed the start of team-run workouts from March to April. Shurmur greeted and addressed the players Monday as he unofficially began his second season on the job.
“Aside from a couple of guys, we’ve got an outstanding turnout,” said Shurmur, who didn’t meet some of his players last year until training camp in July. “This is my first offseason program. I think it gives you a little clarity knowing how much work needs to get done on the field in the latter part of May and June.
“I understand and realize how important these can be, so that you can get your systems in place, to refine. The players have a chance to work together and start to develop a winning chemistry.”
Phase I of the offseason programs is supervised strength and conditioning and some meetings involving assistant coaches, limited to a total of four hours a day. Phase II includes on-field work and leads into organized team activities and mandatory minicamp.
Most of the offseason is voluntary.
“I think that’s an important thing to remember,” Shurmur said. “That’s why with the fact that the turnout was so good, it tells me that they’re excited to get back to work. It says a lot about the direction this team wants to go.”
Linebacker Scott Fujita didn’t attend, because he was in New York meeting with commissioner Roger Goodell as part of the union’s executive committee, according to multiple reports. The Saints’ bounty scandal was one of the topics, and Fujita is expected to be disciplined by the league. He was a starter and team captain for New Orleans in its Super Bowl season of 2009.
Shurmur didn’t know any specifics regarding Fujita and talked only in generalities about bounties.
“I think player safety is important and I understand the integrity of the game,” Shurmur said. “I think as coaches we want to make sure we do things the right way and, of course, this will be a point of emphasis. So I’ll talk to the team about it.”
Quarterback Colt McCoy was in Berea for the first day. He’s the returning starter and received a round of endorsements from the team’s decision-makers, but they also chased Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and are considering drafting Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill or Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden.
Shurmur said he talked to McCoy, but not about the team’s pursuit of his possible replacement.
“Nope. Nope,” he said. “Like a lot of the other players who I’ve spoken to throughout the offseason, I didn’t think that was necessary. We just kind of greeted each other. We started talking about what we want to get accomplished in the offseason more than any of the other business.
“He’s doing fine. He’s looking forward to getting going here with the offseason program.”
Shurmur declined to talk draft specifics but said he’s “heavily involved” and talks to general manager Tom Heckert every day.
Alabama running back Trent Richardson is one of the favorites to be Cleveland’s pick at No. 4. The Browns already have Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya, but Jackson missed the 2011 season with a toe injury, while Hardesty was severely limited by a couple of leg injuries and missed his rookie year in 2010 following knee surgery.
“They were all here today and they’re very eager to improve,” Shurmur said. “You have to have your running backs performing at a high level. And to do that, they’ve obviously got to get themselves trained and stay healthy.”
Defensive end Marcus Benard was out for the final 12 weeks of 2011 following a motorcycle accident.
“He looks actually good,” Shurmur said. “From what I heard, he performed well (in the weight room).”
Shurmur said he studied the new restrictive offseason rules and is fine with them.
“I do think structure and having boundaries you don’t cross are good,” he said. “We’ll be able to get everything we need done, for sure.
“For me, I just have a much better view of what our team is and the areas we need to improve in to get ourselves in a position to play in the playoffs and compete to play in the big game. And I think that’s what we’re looking to do.”
(bullet) The NFL schedule will be released tonight at 7 o’clock on NFL Network, ESPN and NFL.com. The Browns’ opponents are known, just not the dates and times.
They will host Cincinnati, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Kansas City, Philadelphia, San Diego and Washington. They will travel to Cincinnati, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, New York Giants and Oakland.