Browns begin offseason program

By Tom Withers

Associated Press

Published: Monday, April 16 2012 4:11 p.m. MDT

CLEVELAND — As they prepare to pick new players in the NFL draft, the current Browns huddled up to begin fixing all that went wrong last season.

Four months after their tumultuous 2011 season ended with a loss to Pittsburgh, Cleveland's players began a "voluntary" offseason program on Monday under second-year coach Pat Shurmur, who didn't have the luxury of such preparation in his first year because of the NFL lockout

Shurmur was pleased with the "outstanding" turnout of a team he now knows much better.

Shurmur said he and the Browns are eager to work.

"From what I saw, the players are looking forward to going over and revisiting the things we did well last year and making improvements on the things that we didn't do well," he said during a teleconference. "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."

Shurmur said during the first phase of his 10-week program that players will spend much of the first two weeks lifting weights and will have limited contact with coaches, who must abide by new rules agreed upon in the collective bargaining agreement.

Shurmur ducked any questions about the April 26-28 draft, where the Browns own the No. 4 overall pick have three of the first 37 selections and could go in any number of directions to help a team that went just 4-12 last season.

There are conflicting reports of the team's interest in Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has jetted up many draft boards. What is known is that the Browns failed in their effort to trade up and get Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is expected to be picked second by Washington.

Cleveland's pursuit indicated doubt about incumbent starter Colt McCoy, who missed the final three games last season with a concussion and was inconsistent in many of his 13 starts.

Shurmur said he spoke with McCoy but didn't discuss the team's offseason interest in another QB.

"I didn't think that was necessary," Shurmur said. "We just kind of greeted each other and we started talking about really what we want to get accomplished in the offseason more than any other business."

Shurmur confirmed that veteran linebacker Scott Fujita was not with the team but in New York meeting commissioner Roger Goodell and league officials in their ongoing investigation of the New Orleans Saints "bounty" program. Fujita, who is on the NFLPA's executive council, played for the Saints from 2006-2009. He has previously admitted to paying teammates to make big plays but not to hurt an opponent.

Fujita is facing possible discipline from Goodell, who suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for the 2012 season and general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games.

Shurmur said he heard the disturbing audiotape of former Saints defensive Gregg Williams encouraging players to injure San Francisco players in a playoff game last season. Shurmur wouldn't comment on the tape, saying "that's a league issue." Shurmur said he values player safety and the integrity of the game. He will talk to his players about what happened in New Orleans to ensure it won't happen again.

"As coaches we want to make sure that we do things that right way and of course this will be a point of emphasis," he said.

Shurmur shared that he had one main message to his players as they began preparing for a new season.

"Everybody needs to improve," he said. "Whether you are (left tackle) Joe Thomas, who went to the Pro Bowl, or a first year player a year ago. We all need to improve to get where we need to be. I'm actually looking for improvement from everyone. For the older guys, it's more familiarity with the system. For the younger guys, it's obviously development beyond that as they become professionals."

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