Browns coach Shurmur battles on despite criticism


Browns coach Shurmur battles on despite criticism

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Cleveland Browns coach Pat Shurmur still loves rookies Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden - even in defeat.

Shurmur would prefer Richardson, his starting running back, to focus on regrouping rather than being critical, however. And the embattled coach also would like Weeden to be more consistent at quarterback.

All told, though, he will gladly take both of them as the Browns move past a disappointing 38-21 loss to Washington on Sunday, an effort that snapped a three-game winning streak.

``I'm not saying you never go to the backup quarterback,'' Shurmur said. ``But I didn't consider it (Sunday).''

Shurmur has directed a young team through a rollercoaster season that included a change in ownership. With a chance to finish strong, the Browns' flop Sunday ended their slim playoff hopes, raised more questions about Weeden and had Richardson contemplating his coach's decisions.

Richardson had two touchdown runs, but gained only 28 yards on 11 carries and said after that he thought Shurmur abandoned the game plan. Shurmur wasn't pleased by the comments, but said Monday, he is not angry.

``I'm not upset with him,'' Shurmur said. ``I did talk to him. I asked what he meant by what he said. I explained to him that when we're all in a state of disappointment because we lost, it is important to keep our focus and, No. 1, regroup and get ready to play the next game.''

Shurmur has two more chances to make a positive imprint, as new owner Jimmy Haslam III ponders offseason moves. Haslam bought the team over the summer, and together with new CEO Joe Banner, will evaluate all aspects of the organization after another largely disappointing season.

Cleveland began the season 0-5, and even though Shurmur's Browns have persevered through the troubles, they are still just 5-9 with two difficult games approaching - Denver (11-3) and Pittsburgh (7-7).

Shurmur expects better play from Weeden regardless of the opponent, saying the 29-year-old is not too old to develop.

``I've never thought about his age,'' Shurmur said. ``I think of him as a rookie and he'll be better his second year. I'm looking forward to him having a much better game this week against Denver.''

Weeden was 21 for 35 for 244 yards, one touchdown, and two costly interceptions against the Redskins.

``We had two turnovers turned into 14 points and you can't do that,'' Shurmur said. ``On the second (pick), he tried to put it over the linebacker and the ball didn't go where he wanted.''

Shurmur said he evaluates every throw by Weeden, but would not reveal his grading scale. Weeden, a first-round pick, was clearly outplayed by fourth-round choice Kirk Cousins on Sunday. Cousins, making his first start in place of injured Robert Griffin III, threw for 329 yards and two scores.

The Redskins picked up big chunks of yardage when Cousins rolled out and found open receivers. It appeared that the Browns simply did not adjust. Shurmur said that was not the case at all.

``We were prepared for their style of offense, but they did a very good job,'' Shurmur said. ``It was not the same play every time.''

Shurmur believes the Browns will benefit by Richardson refining his game, too. Picked No. 3 overall last spring, the former Alabama star leads the team with 897 yards on the ground. And with 11 rushing touchdowns, he has already surpassed Hall of Fame standout Jim Brown's 55-year-old team rookie record.

``He's getting the ball in the end zone,'' Shurmur said. ``His yards per rush could be better.''

Richardson is averaging 3.5 yards a carry, but Shurmur noted that has been accomplished while playing injured. Richardson has played with injured ribs since mid-October and missed the preseason after having minor surgery on his left knee.

``I don't think his style has been defined yet,'' Shurmur said. ``He's still learning to play in the NFL.''

NOTES: The Browns waived DB Dimitri Patterson, who joined the club as an unrestricted free agent in 2011. Patterson appeared in seven contests this season with four starts. He finished with 28 tackles. ... Shurmur did not have injury updates on DB T.J. Ward (knee) and DL Frostee Rucker (groin). ... Cleveland finished 0-4 vs. the NFC East.

Redskins guard Spencer Long has been getting some work at center, too


Redskins guard Spencer Long has been getting some work at center, too

Although it’s a little early in the offseason to handicap position battles, it’s definitely worth noting that guard Spencer Long has also been getting some work at center.

“Getting more and more comfortable,” Long told me on Monday at the Redskins charity golf tournament. “Obviously, I’d be lying if I told you I was as comfortable [at center] as I was at guard, but that comes with time. The more practice I get at it, the better I’ll be. I’ve been working at it daily.”

“It’s something that I’m definitely prepared to do if I’m asked,” the 25-year-old added. “It’s something I’ll continue to work at.”

What does it mean? That’s unclear…for now.

Starter Kory Lichtensteiger along with backups Josh LeRibeus and Austin Reiter are the three centers currently listed on the Redskins’ roster.

Long, meantime, made 14 starts in 2015 at left guard after replacing Shawn Lauvao, who was playing well when he went down with a season-ending ankle injury in Week 3. Lauvao, though, is expected to return at some point and, assuming that he does, it could create an opportunity to reshuffle the line.

But that doesn’t mean it is going to happen. Lichtensteiger is by far the most experienced center on the team. It’s also important to point out how quickly Jay Gruden reinstalled Lichtensteiger as the starter last January after he missed most of the season with a pinched nerve in his shoulder. Long, on the other hand, is more than five years younger and has a big size advantage but has played in only 18 games, all as a guard.

On Wednesday, the Redskins will open practice to reporters for the first time this spring, giving us a better picture of the pecking order at a number of positions, including those along the O-line.

We’ll also get a better feel for exactly how much work Long is getting at center—and how much progress he's made.  

“You’re the guy that has to be orchestrating everything up there,” Long said, asked about playing center vs. guard. “While making the calls, you have to focus on your snaps, too. ...You have to have a certain poise, to make the right calls confidently and also get the snap off when you’re exhausted. It’s just a different position; you’re at the head of it.”

OTAs to-do list: How much work remains at safety?


OTAs to-do list: How much work remains at safety?

Free agency is done. The draft is history. Rookie minicamp is in the rearview and the 90-man offseason roster has been filled out. Now comes the difficult part for Jay Gruden and his staff: putting it all together. With OTAs set to begin today, Redskins Insiders Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine top priorities on Gruden’s to-do list as he prepares the team for training camp in Richmond later this summer.

Up today …

Safeties to-do list

Tandler: In many areas what needs to be accomplished during OTAs is somewhat subtle, a tweak here and there. But at safety there are two glaringly obvious things that need to be done at safety this spring.

One is to get DeAngelo Hall fully acclimated at free safety. Last year veteran made an in-season change from cornerback, the position he played for his first 11 NFL seasons, to safety. Now he is starting the offseason program at the still somewhat unfamiliar position. It’s no longer an experiment and he needs to master the nuances of safety starting today.

The other item here is to figure out who will start at strong safety and what roles the reserves will play. Duke Ihenacho won the job last year but he lasted only a few snaps into the season before a wrist injury ended his season. David Bruton was mostly a reserve in seven seasons in Denver but he signed here with assurances that he would get to compete for the starting job. And while rookie Su’a Cravens is starting out as an inside linebacker it’s only a few steps back from there to an in-the-box strong safety spot. It will be interesting to watch who gets how much action at the position as they begin to sort it out.

El-Bashir: One of the more scrutinized positions in the coming weeks figures to be the safety spot next to DeAngelo Hall, whom I suspect can be safely penciled in as one starter.

As for everyone else? We’ll get our first look at the pecking order tomorrow, when the Redskins open practice to reporters for the first time this spring.

Here’s what I’ll be looking for:

  • Is there a rotation opposite Hall? Or is someone (David Bruton, Duke Ihenacho or 'other') clearly working as a first-teamer?
  • How is Will Blackmon deployed? Listed as a corner last season, the veteran was signed to a two-year contract extension and is now listed as a safety.
  • Su’a Cravens worked with the inside linebackers during rookie minicamp. But he’s listed as a safety. Does he get some work as a defensive back?
  • And what about special teams standout Deshazor Everett? Like Blackmon, he's also moved from corner to safety. Where, and with whom, does he work?

My sense is that there’s a lot of work to be done at this position. We’ll get our first glimpse of exactly how much work remains tomorrow afternoon.  

OTAs to-do list: Is it Matt Jones' job to lose?


OTAs to-do list: Is it Matt Jones' job to lose?

Free agency is done. The draft is history. Rookie minicamp is in the rearview and the 90-man offseason roster has been filled out. Now comes the difficult part for Jay Gruden and his staff: putting it all together. With OTAs set to begin today, Redskins Insiders Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine top priorities on Gruden’s to-do list as he prepares the team for training camp in Richmond later this summer.

Up today …

Running backs to-do list

Tandler: The Redskins’ depth chart seems to be missing a running back. The “lead dog” will be Matt Jones but there really isn’t a Plan B there. Maybe seventh-round pick Keith Marshall can contribute but if Jones is injured or ineffective for any significant amount of time—and he experienced stretches of both during his rookie 2015 season—it’s difficult to see Marshall carrying the load.

Perhaps the coaches will give Mack Brown a shot. He bounced on and off of the practice squad last year. The 24-year-old former Florida Gator might get a chance during OTAs to earn some significant snaps during training camp. He’s a long shot but part of OTAs is figuring out which players on the fringe of the roster might be able to make a legitimate push to make the team in July and August.

Still, it really feels like they are waiting for another running back to arrive. There has been plenty of talk about bringing back Pierre Thomas, who contributed during the last four games of last season. However, the 31-year-old veteran remains unsigned. Many have speculated that Arian Foster, released by the Texans, would be a good fit. But he is recovering from a torn Achilles and he can’t yet pass a physical so the speculation remains just that.

The process of identifying Jones’ backup is going to start in OTAs but I get a feeling it will continue into training camp.

El-Bashir: As the roster stands now, the Redskins’ plan for an improved rushing attack appears to revolve around Matt Jones staying healthy and making a huge leap production-wise in his second season.

To me, that seems like a big ask. Jones does boast impressive size for a runner and he possesses loads of talent. But he had a rough rookie season, one marked by injuries (he missed four games), fumbles (five on 169 touches) and inefficiency (league-worst 3.4 yards per carry among qualified rushers).

The good news is Jones should be fully recovered from the toe and hip ailments that sidelined him in '15. And, based on the second half of last season, he appears to be recovering from an acute case of fumble-itis. 

But what’s the backup plan if Jones' anticipated improvement stalls? Oft-injured Chris Thompson, who is recovering from shoulder surgery? Speedy seventh round draft pick Keith Marshall? As Tandler said, it seems like there should be a 'TBD' listed on the running back depth chart entering OTAs.

Over the next month, though, Jones will get the chance to quell any concerns about his ability to shoulder the load. But it can also go the other way. If there's any doubt, in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Redskins turn to the free agent market for some veteran insurance.