What exactly does Shurmur need to stop? He certainly can't stop what the media appears to fabricate at times. All things considered, this has been a good start to the season for Cleveland. Instead of focusing on the positives, we are hearing about "trouble" involving running back Peyton Hillis.
Is Hillis being utilized in the best possible manner on gameday? No. Has he complained about it to the media? I don't see it, but we're seeing definitive overreactions to quotes such as this one: "You have to take that up with the coaches," said Hillis when asked about how he was being used. "That’s nothing I can predict. I have no control over that."
What's so bad about that? Sure there is some frustration, but he's not saying anything that is outrageously out of line. He didn't walk up to a reporter and demand some venting time; he's required to participate in media sessions when asked.
All of this was set up when Hillis was voted to the cover of Madden. In hindsight, maybe it was a mistake for fans to make it a mission to get Hillis some more exposure. Right away, the responses from the national media was that he really didn't deserve it. Then the rumors of a contract extension for Hillis, followed by nothing being done to date, which led to rumors that Hillis was disappointed by the offer he received and chose to sit out with strep throat in order to make a statement (end run on sentence). Am I really supposed to believe Hillis got that big of an ego after being so humble last season? I firmly believe that the guy has not done a single thing wrong but is having the finger pointed at him for the sake of a potentially "buzzing" news story.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported this on Sunday:
Then there was Adam Schefter’s report on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown that some of Hillis’ teammates had privately questioned why he couldn’t play a week ago, wondering if his contract status played a part.
I bet some teammates did wonder why he couldn't play a week ago. We were all surprised by the news that Sunday morning, and I'm sure some of the players were too. They just lost their best offensive weapon. Maybe a couple of teammates pondered if his contract situation motivated him any less, but unless Hillis made a stink about it himself -- something we have heard zero reports of -- there is really nothing more to discuss.
Head coach Pat Shurmur spent a lot of time addressing and dismissing these rumors in his Monday press conference:
(On if reports are true that Hillis would not play or they wouldn’t play him because of his contract situation) - "I think there’s a lot going on with that question or comment, but that’s not the case. He played and he was a contributor yesterday. I think what’s being talked about is something that happened two weeks ago. In my mind, it’s not an issue and as we move forward I hope it becomes something that we don’t talk about. He’s our running back, we handed him the football, we threw it to him and he did a good job."
(On if he was really sick) - "My understanding was he was sick and that’s why he didn’t play and he wasn’t sick this past week and he played. It sounds as though we’re going to talk about this, but I think I’m not just saying it, that’s what happened."
(On if the Browns would ever diminish Hillis’ role because he has an unresolved contract issue) - "Absolutely not, absolutely not. I think that’s a non-issue. I think what you look at; you look at the game, you look at how it gets played out and at the end of the game you sit and look at a piece of paper that talks about what happened in the game. Well, the game changes as the score changes and we did some things where the score got stretched out on us, and you naturally now are trying to race yourself back into the game and a lot of times that involves throwing it. I would never think of throwing the ball 61 times. For some folks that might be fun, I would never do that if we’re in a situation where it’s different."
(On if it concerns him that the ESPN source about the Hillis situation came from the locker room/ organization) - "When information gets out you obviously like to see names attached to it. I am aware enough to know that there are all kinds of ways information spreads now. I’ve never sent one Twitter, I don’t have Facebook, I’m not aware of really how it all happens. You folks are very good at getting information and it spreads. I’ve expressed to the team that I would prefer that we keep business in-house and I think sometimes that’s hard to do. I can’t really control how the team feels about certain situations other than we’re constantly talking about being very professional, about doing your job and doing those types of things. Until somebody says so and so said it, it’s very hard for me to comment beyond that."
(On if he talked to Hillis personally that morning before Miami and if he asked him if he could play knowing that it was an illness and not an injury related situation) - "What I would say it this, he and I had a conversation. My understanding was that he was ill and he didn’t play. That’s my understanding and so we moved forward and that’s when Hardesty played a lot. Yesterday, he (Hillis) was healthy and he played and he started and did a good job."
(On if Hillis looked legitimately sick to him) - "Yes, he looked sick. I’m not trying to talk around it. He was ill and he looked ill."
(On whose decision was it for Hillis not to play) - "The young man was sick and he didn’t play, OK and that’s the end of it. He played yesterday and I think that’s what the important thing is. Two weeks ago he didn’t play. We played the Miami Dolphins and won the game. Yesterday, he did. He was a significant contributor yesterday and we didn’t win."
(On if he heard any grumbling from players in the locker room about Hillis not playing last week) - "No, I did not."
My goodness. What is this, an interrogation of Shurmur? Similarly, tight end Evan Moore has been the subject of, "is he complaining about playing time?" Here's a snippet from the ABJ article:
Asked if he felt frustration over his number not being called, Moore laughed and said: "I know what you’re saying. Yeah, it’s tough. It’s very tough." When the inconsistency of him getting in for a couple of plays and then disappearing again was brought up, Moore said, "Yeah, I agree."
The Browns have a bye next weekend before traveling to Oakland on Oct. 16. Asked if that issue would be addressed in the next two weeks, he said: "I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I don’t know."
Nothing there tells me that Moore is suddenly going to become a cancer in the locker room. After seeing so much action in the preseason and in Week 1, I think it's common sense for him to answer the questions from the media in the manner that he is. What else should he say?
Shurmur was asked about these "player problems" and whether or not he had been approached personally:
(On speaking to
Evan Moore and Peyton Hillis in terms of lack of play) - "Neither one of them said anything to me about it. I would say this, everyone in that locker room was disappointed that we lost and I think its skill players, guys that touch the ball. There’s something about their nature where they want it all the time and I think that’s something good. I think we all know that when we don’t get everything that we’re looking for there are certain ways to handle it. It’s very hard for me to say beyond that."
(On players saying ‘you have to ask the coach’) - "I think that’s natural. Again, I can’t tell you I just know this, there were a lot of guys in the locker room disappointed because we lost, me being one of them. I went home last night, but I wasn’t throwing furniture. I was upset. I’m sure I wasn’t great at conversation last night. I was upset that we lost, but you know what, we get a good night sleep or the best you can, you come in, you handle the issues of the day and you move forward trying to do the best you can to get your team ready to play the next game."
Playmakers want the ball in their hands. We've seen Pat Shurmur make some coaching adjustments defensively this season in terms of personnel. Over the bye, let's hope he makes plans for better utilization of Hillis and Moore. In the mean time, maybe the media can stop blowing things out of proportion and focus on something like the emergence of the defensive line.