In the midst of the doubt and uncertainty created by the NFL’s lockout, this became clear: Colt McCoy is determined to become the undisputed leader of the Browns.
The league’s first work stoppage since 1987 cut off communication between players and coaches for the majority of the past four months. It was especially harmful to the Browns, because they have a new coaching staff that has been waiting all offseason to spearhead the team’s switch to a West Coast offense and a 4-3 defense.
Armed with Browns coach Pat Shurmur’s playbook, McCoy tried to minimize the damage by organizing four series of players-only workouts during the lockout. Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs dubbed the training sessions “Camp Colt.”
Three camps were held at McCoy’s alma mater, the University of Texas in Austin. Another was at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea.
“Well, I'm not surprised,” Browns President Mike Holmgren said when asked about McCoy orchestrating the gatherings. “One of the things that I think we've all learned about him in a very short period of time is that he's a tremendous leader, and he's kind of a charismatic kid. And the players follow him, and they like him. He's the quarterback, so it was the most natural thing in the world for him to organize the workouts, and he did it.”
At this time last year, McCoy wasn’t in any position to rally his teammates. Holmgren made it known that McCoy, whom the Browns drafted in the third round (85th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft, was supposed to watch and learn from the sidelines as a rookie.
Of course, the plan changed after quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace suffered high-ankle sprains. McCoy ended up starting eight games last season. He went 2-6 and completed 135-of-222 passes for 1,576 yards and six touchdowns with nine interceptions.
Regardless of how it happened, McCoy’s status with the team has changed drastically in the past year. When the Browns open training camp to the public today, fans can expect to see McCoy back in his comfort zone.
“This will be my first time as the starter going [into an NFL training camp],” McCoy said. “Anytime you’re in that position, which I was in four years in college and in high school, the quarterback is usually the guy on the team that everybody looks to, everybody turns to. You can’t get too high or too low. When somebody needs picking up, you’re usually the guy to get that done. I love the opportunity I have.
“I think it’s a much different attitude [this year]. Despite the lockout and the offseason being as crazy as it was, our team has done some things this offseason that I think will really help us as we get started again. We got together on our own time and really learned and kind of went through the playbook several times.
“We spent a lot of time in the meeting rooms, just as much as we did out on the field, studying and learning. Those are things that I didn’t get to do last year that I’m excited about now because I’ve had a little bit of that preparation time to get the timing down with the [receivers]. They know what I expect out of them, and they expect a lot out of me.”
McCoy, 6-foot-1 and 221 pounds, also has higher expectations for himself as he enters his second professional season. The improved condition of his throwing shoulder is one reason for his optimism. McCoy suffered a pinched nerve in his right shoulder during the 2010 BCS National Championship Game, and it lingered last season.
“Obviously, it healed enough to where I was able to play and compete [last season], but I knew it still wasn’t exactly where I wanted it to be,” McCoy said. “I still had issues with it. I still struggled with it at times. Having to overcome that and fight through it and put so much hard work and energy into it, for it to be feeling as good as it does now, that brings out a lot of confidence. It wasn’t a normal injury. If you break a bone in your body, you cast it up, you let it sit for three or four weeks and it heals up the right way and you’re fine.
“With a nerve injury, depending on how much damage is done, you never know if that’s ever gonna heal up completely or if it’ll just stay like that forever. That was hard for me. There’s really nothing you can do except give it time. Once it reaches a certain stage in its recovery, then you start to see results. So the time off has been great. I’ve worked really hard, and it brings out more confidence in me now that I feel like it’s healed all the way.”
McCoy is also self-assured because he believes Shurmur’s West Coast offense caters to his strengths.
“In general, it’s what we ran in college,” McCoy said. “It’s very similar. The words are different but the concepts, the protection, the routes, it’s all the same. I definitely feel like that’s something that I feel confident in doing. I’ve got a lot to work on, a lot to prove. But at the same time, I do feel comfortable in it. I think it fits the way that I play. Being able to throw on the run, make some things happen with your feet, moving around the pocket, getting out of the pocket, I think it’s a good mix-up of all those things that I really feel confident doing.”
McCoy’s faith in himself has grown since last season, when the Browns posted a record of 5-11. His teammates noticed the way he took charge during the lockout.
“I think Colt is kind of a natural born leader,” Browns tight end Evan Moore said. “So when he first got here, in hindsight, I realize that he was definitely uncomfortable not being a leader and not being able to voice how he feels about things and push guys in a certain direction. Now I think he’s just himself, and he’s comfortable. You can tell it’s not forced. He organized our offseason workouts. He basically ran our workouts, and that’s what you want your quarterback doing.”
Perhaps no one knows exactly how much the players-only workouts will help the Browns. The lockout has certainly created a tough situation for Shurmur and his staff, and there’s no way to fully compensate for the time they lost.
Still, at least Shurmur and Co. know McCoy, 24, is on a mission to help the franchise change its losing ways.
“I think we got a lot done [during the lockout] that some other teams weren’t able to get done, really because they don’t have a quarterback with the leadership skills that Colt has,” Browns wide receiver Jordan Norwood said. “I have friends and previous teammates on other teams that say they didn’t get together at all. I think that’s directly a testament to Colt McCoy’s leadership abilities and his wanting to be successful as a quarterback, successful as a team, successful as an organization.”
No one will question McCoy’s desire. The Browns, though, need his hunger to yield wins.
“We understand the challenges we have ahead of us,” McCoy said. “We want to make it work. We’ll give it all we’ve got, and we are gonna turn this thing around.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.