Faced Monday with a second day of questions about the handling of quarterback Colt McCoy’s concussion Thursday night, Shurmur stuck with his statement from Friday that the Browns followed protocol before allowing McCoy to re-enter the 14-3 loss to Pittsburgh.
But he refused to answer questions about the specific care given to McCoy on the sideline, despite ESPN’s report Sunday that the league’s initial review determined the Browns’ medical staff didn’t administer a standard concussion test.
“We followed all the proper medical procedures,” Shurmur said following a short practice. “I said it today. I said it then.”
Shurmur, who said he hadn’t heard about the ESPN report, was asked repeatedly and specifically if the medical staff gave McCoy the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool 2 (SCAT 2) test. He was evasive each time.
Players are prohibited by league rule from returning to the game after sustaining a concussion, and the test is supposed to help determine if there’s been a concussion. McCoy missed only two plays, and just three minutes and 50 seconds elapsed between the helmet-to-helmet hit from Steelers linebacker James Harrison and when he re-entered the game.
“Our medical staff works with the player and they determine whether he can play or not,” said Shurmur, who said head athletic trainer Joe Sheehan told him McCoy was OK to return. “There’s communication. They look at him. They talk to him. That’s what they do.
“Sideline procedures to determine whether a man can play. We followed them.”
McCoy didn’t practice Monday but Shurmur said he was at team headquarters in the morning. The Browns return to practice Wednesday and it’s not known if he’ll be cleared by then. Shurmur is hopeful he can play Sunday in Arizona.
Seneca Wallace took the first-team repetitions Monday and would start Sunday. McCoy has taken all but three snaps this season.
McCoy was unavailable to reporters because league policy prohibits a player from talking until he’s been cleared to resume practicing. President Mike Holmgren chose not to talk and the medical staff was off-limits, leaving Shurmur to represent the team.
The NFL office confirmed it’s discussing the case with the Browns, but won’t reveal details. Shurmur was asked if he’s talked to the league.
“League business. I don’t want to comment on that,” he said.
The players’ association sent representatives to town to interview players and investigate the situation. The practice is reserved for special circumstances.
Linebacker Scott Fujita, a member of the union’s executive committee, is an advocate for player safety. He had a concussion this season and raved about the way the team’s medical staff took care of him.
“In my time in Cleveland, I believe our training staff has been ahead of the curve on this issue,” Fujita, who’s on injured reserve with a broken hand, wrote in an email. “The one thing I know is that when it comes to this issue, players, coaches and team medical personnel struggle in the heat of the moment. This has been an ongoing problem for years. The gameday sideline is intense, there’s a lot going on, and we can’t always count on everyone to make the most responsible decisions.
“There are league-wide problems in procedure, and that’s what needs to be addressed. You can’t point your finger at any one thing. It’s the process.”
The concussion issue is a personal one for Fujita. He thinks it’s an area that was overlooked when the new collective bargaining agreement was signed in the summer, and believes an independent neurologist should be used at games.
That was a popular theory in the locker room.
“I think it would help,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “If you give an independent neurologist just one thing to look for on both sides, then he can just focus on exactly that.
“We’ve got enough other people that check jerseys and watch for your socks to be pulled up and everything else. Why don’t you have somebody that’s watching for concussions? They’re making the refs try to look for it, too. Well, they’ve got enough things to worry about just like the coaches. The trainers, they’re watching everybody, they’re watching for everything, so I think it would be a good idea.”
Tight end Evan Moore has had at least two concussions in the last two seasons.
“We need to find a way to standardize everything and make it so there is no gray area, and there’s no question that this has revealed that the system might need to change a little bit — not with the Browns but with the entire league,” he said. “We’ve got to protect players, no question about it.”
The hit on McCoy looked so jarring — the crown of Harrison’s helmet hit McCoy’s facemask, causing his head to snap back — it seemed unlikely he’d be able to return. But he was quickly back in the game when trainers gave the go-ahead.
Right tackle Tony Pashos, the team’s union representative, said it’s possible the medical staff didn’t see the hit and McCoy seemed fine by the time they got to him as he lay on the field.
“I’m really impressed with the Browns’ medical staff,” Pashos said. “There was like bodies everywhere, and 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. I think our staff did the best they could with that.
“If anything, you’re gonna just see more hands on deck. Joe (Sheehan) here has been upfront and he’s held some pretty valuable players for us out of games. He had no fear in doing that before.”
Nine Browns have sustained concussions this season, and tight end Benjamin Watson and fullback Owen Marecic were removed against the Steelers. Watson’s had three concussions this year, and Marecic two. They didn’t practice Monday.
“They were a huge part of our game plan, massively a huge part of our game plan, and they didn’t come back in that game,” Pashos said.
The players also defended Shurmur.
“You can’t blame him for putting Colt back in there,” Thomas said. “I think unless they think something’s wrong they’re going to put him back in the game.
“Colt’s been hit hard a lot this year. He’s been down a few times. But he’s a tough kid, so I think it’s very understandable that he says, ‘I’m OK,’ and he goes back in the game and everything’s fine.”
Pashos said McCoy seemed OK after he returned to the huddle.
“He was pretty gung-ho,” he said. “The guy that I saw I thought was pretty ready and prepared to go out there and win and everything.
“I’m not evaluating anybody. I’m not a doctor. I’m the right tackle.”