BEREA: Quarterback Colt McCoy stood on the sideline at practice and discussed the intricacies of the West Coast offense with wide receivers Josh Cribbs and Greg Little.
McCoy repeatedly took a few steps forward, planted his right leg and cut to his left. He turned his head and commanded his teammates as he simulated the motions of running a route.
“After long plays or long incompletions, we come back in and we chat with each other,” said Little, a rookie second-round draft pick. “[We say], ‘OK, this is what I want you to do, or this is how I’m doing this right here.’ ”
Yes, the Browns are still working out the details of coach Pat Shurmur’s new offense. McCoy and Co. will be able to test their progress tonight, when the Browns host the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in the preseason opener for both teams.
“It’s day-to-day,” McCoy said of the offense’s development. “That’s the way we look at it in the locker room. We are still installing some plays. We are looking for consistency.
“We started off a little slow, but we are getting better every day. If you watch the offense and you critique some of the things and you go back and watch the tape, I think our spacing is getting better. Our timing is getting better.”
In his preseason debut as coach, Shurmur plans to play McCoy and the rest of the starters for one quarter. The second-string players will play for about two quarters, and the rest of the team will enter the game in the fourth quarter, he said.
“We take these games very seriously,” Shurmur said. “To start the year out against an opponent like the Super Bowl champs will be a good gauge.”
Shurmur wants to know where the Browns stand with their Sept. 11 regular-season opener fast approaching. The NFL’s lockout prevented Shurmur and his assistants from coaching their players for most of the offseason. They didn’t receive an opportunity to meet several members of the team until players reported to training camp on July 29.
Shurmur, 46, has since guided the players through a crash-course installation of the West Coast offense. New defensive coordinator Dick Jauron has done the same by implementing his 4-3 scheme in a hurry. Special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor has had his hands full, too.
“You’re looking at a situation where 90 players and 20 coaches have gotten together for the first time for two weeks,” Shurmur said. “I want to see where we’re at as a team. My sense is we’re going to find we have a long way to go.”
The players also are looking forward to getting a sense of their collective identity. Practicing against each other doesn’t provide a genuine indicator.
“I’m eager, like I just can’t wait to see what we’re going to do, what we’re made of,” Cribbs said. “Not having [any] real scrimmages with the refs out here throwing flags, I’m just eager to see how we match up against an opponent.”
The first exhibition game, of course, is valuable for the entire team. But there is much at stake for many players on an individual level, too.
Starting middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson will play in a real-game setting for the first time since Oct. 18, 2009, when he tore a pectoral muscle against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In his first comeback attempt, he suffered another torn pectoral muscle a year ago in practice and has missed the Browns’ past 26 regular-season games.
In addition to Jackson, linebackers Scott Fujita (torn MCL in his left knee) and Kaluka Maiava (torn ACL in his right knee), offensive lineman Tony Pashos (right ankle) and tight end Evan Moore (hernia) suffered season-ending injuries in 2010. Fujita is the only one of the group who didn’t need surgery to correct the problem. All of them are expected to face the Packers.
Punter Richmond McGee isn’t worried about his health, though he’s concerned with earning a roster spot. This is the fourth year in a row he has tried to establish job security with an NFL team. McGee was waived by the Chicago Bears on Aug. 1. Two days later, he tried out with the Browns and emerged as the successor to Reggie Hodges, who suffered a season-ending torn left Achilles’ tendon during practice. McGee will try to impress his new bosses while punting and holding on kicks tonight.
Then there are the rookies who will experience their first taste of competing in an NFL game. Three of the Browns’ 2011 draft picks, defensive tackle Phil Taylor, defensive end Jabaal Sheard and fullback Owen Marecic, are listed as starters on the depth chart.
“I’m excited about it, but I’m humble too because it’s a big learning step for me,” said Taylor, the team’s first-round selection in this year’s draft. “I’m going to take all the coaching I had last week and this week and go in and play hard every play.”
Several other players will fight for Shurmur’s attention. NFL teams are expected to trim their rosters from 90 players to 75 on Aug. 30.
“For us, this is very fun to go out there and compete and see how good we are and try to win a game,” Shurmur said. “That’s what motivates us. You work with a bunch of players for a certain period of time. You try to encourage them and empower them to do well, and you want to go out there and see it happen.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow the Browns on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ABJ_Browns and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/browns.abj.