BEREA: Browns coach Pat Shurmur continued Monday to defend the way the team’s medical staff handled quarterback Colt McCoy after he suffered a concussion against the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night at Heinz Field.
But Shurmur also repeatedly avoided giving a yes-or-no answer to an essential question: After McCoy was hit in the face mask by the helmet of Steelers linebacker James Harrison, was he tested for a concussion by medical personnel before he re-entered the game?
“[McCoy] came off the field and our medical staff worked with him and he was told, I was told that he was able to play,” Shurmur said Monday after practice. “OK, so that’s where it’s at. He was treated like any player that has an episode on the field.”
Representatives from the NFL and the NFL Players Association are expected to meet with the Browns today to discuss the matter.
McCoy missed practice Monday and was treated for symptoms of his concussion, Shurmur said. Also sidelined during practice were rookie fullback Owen Marecic and tight end Benjamin Watson, both of whom left the game Thursday with concussions and did not return.
It’s unclear whether McCoy will be ready to play Sunday when the Browns (4-9) visit the Arizona Cardinals (6-7). In his absence, backup quarterback Seneca Wallace has been preparing to start.
“Until Colt comes back, Seneca will take the snaps,” Shurmur said. “I expect him to go in there and execute efficiently and hopefully lead us to a victory.”
McCoy was smashed by Harrison with a little less than six minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Browns’ 14-3 loss to the Steelers. He slowly got off the ground, walked to the sideline with medical personnel and returned to the game after missing two plays. McCoy complained about hurting his left hand after the hit, but he did not exhibit concussion-like symptoms until after the game, Shurmur said.
Browns President Mike Holmgren chose not to address media Monday. A team spokesman said a member of the Browns’ medical staff would not be made available to reporters.
So Shurmur was left to deal with the questions about the organization’s handling of McCoy.
When asked whether the team’s medical staff administered a concussion test on McCoy in addition to examining his hand, Shurmur said, “He was treated. His hand was treated and he was communicated with about how he was feeling. In the midst of that communication, it was determined his hand was fine. And our doctors and our training staff have communication with the player, and he was deemed ready to play.”
Browns head athletic trainer Shurmur said Joe Sheehan and McCoy told him that McCoy was ready to return to action.
An initial review by the NFL determined the Browns did not test McCoy for a concussion until Friday morning, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported on Sunday NFL Countdown.
When asked to address ESPN’s report, Shurmur said, “I don’t know what got reported other than what you’re telling me now, but we followed all the proper medical procedures and that’s where it’s at. … I don’t know what the report is, so I’ll go back and find out.”
The NFLPA sent representatives to Cleveland on Monday to gather information about the way the Browns handled McCoy’s situation, a union source confirmed for the Beacon Journal. The incident involving McCoy could prompt the NFL to assign independent neurologists to oversee future games, sources told Mortensen.
Several Browns players have expressed their support for the idea.
“Why not just have an independent doctor, neurologist, whoever it is, who all he does is look for concussions on both sides?” left tackle Joe Thomas asked. “Because in the heat of battle when you’ve got people on both sides, they’re looking for a lot of different types of [injuries]. So to expect them to be able to make split-second decisions and be 100 percent right on everything and be able to catch everything is a lot, especially when it’s such an important thing.
“[The league has] sort of a template — this is how you check for concussions. Why wouldn’t you just have an independent person there? I mean, we’ve got enough other people that check jerseys and watch for your socks to be pulled up and everything else. I mean why don’t you have somebody that’s watching for concussions? They’re making the refs try to look for it, too. That was the latest thing: ‘We’re gonna have the officials watch for it.’ Well, they’ve got enough things to worry about, just like the coaches. They’re trying to coach a game.”
The Browns have had a player suffer a concussion on at least nine occasions this season. Linebacker Scott Fujita, a member of the players association’s executive committee, missed a game with a concussion earlier this year. Fujita, who’s on injured reserve with a surgically repaired right hand, said he believes the team’s training staff is “ahead of the curve” on concussion-related issues, though more work must be done.
“There are league-wide problems in procedure, and that’s what needs to be addressed,” Fujita wrote in an e-mail. “You can’t point your finger at any one thing. It’s the process. We need to continue to strive to find better ways to take care of our players, and I think an independent neurologist on game days is something that should be seriously considered. Implementation and details obviously need to be thoroughly discussed, but I think this shouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility.”
Right tackle Tony Pashos, the Browns’ union representative, said he can understand why McCoy was allowed to re-enter the game despite suffering a concussion.
“I think for having so many injuries going on at the same time and trying to get guys taken care of, that was a product of that night,” Pashos said. “I think our staff did the best they could with that…What you’re gonna see is more hands on deck.”
Despite the shot McCoy absorbed, several of his teammates said they were not surprised he returned to the action.
“Colt is a gamer,” wide receiver Josh Cribbs said. “I doubt that our training staff would mislead him at all. He took a shot, was feeling woozy, got back up, got his head together. He wanted to play. He knew where he was. He wanted to get back in the game to help his team win. That’s football. That’s the gladiator sport we signed up for. That’s the sport we play.”
But the NFL’s “return to play protocol” was designed to prevent anyone from playing with a concussion. And it didn’t serve its purpose in McCoy’s case.
When asked in an e-mail whether the NFL will penalize the Browns for the way they handled McCoy’s situation, league spokesman Greg Aiello wrote, “Keep in mind that the player came off the field, said he was fine, complained only about his hand and showed no symptoms at that point of a concussion.”