BEREA, Ohio—The Browns have been looking for a dominating pass rusher for a long time and they might have found one in rookie Jabaal Sheard.
The second-round draft choice from Pitt leads the team with 7.5 sacks and seems to be playing better as the season goes along. He has five sacks in the last five games. Sheard is second among AFC rookies to the Broncos' Von Miller, who has 11.5. Sheard's sack total is the most by a Browns rookie since Michael Dean Perry had six in 1988. Kamerion Wimbley holds the record for most by a Browns rookie when he had 11 in 2006.
"Jabaal's an outstanding player in almost every aspect of the game and I only think he will get better," defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. "He likes to compete and he recognizes things quickly and reacts to things quickly. In general, he plays the run very well and rushes the passes well."
Sheard had two sacks last week against the Cardinals and in the previous game with the Ravens, Sheard had nine tackles, including a strip-sack that lead to a Browns score. On the season, Sheard has 48 tackles, one pass broken up and five forced fumbles with a recovery to go along with the sack production. His sack totals are the second-highest by a Browns rookie.
Pat Shurmur likes that Sheard is playing well this late in the season and doesn't seem to have hit the proverbial rookie ‘wall'.
"We knew how talented he is and he's been a steady performer at a time of the year when a lot of rookies drop off (in production) and that's a bright sign." Shurmur said.
Sheard along with fellow rookie defensive tackle Phil Taylor have combined for 11.5 sacks, which is the first time that two Browns rookies have had four or more sacks in the same season since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
His five forced fumbles are the third most in the league. Jauron said a lot is coaching, but also much is innate ability.
"I know Pee Wee (defensive line coach Dwaine Board) does a great job of working with him, but (Sheard's) got a knack," Jauron said. "At every positions there are things you can work on with the players, but Jabaal has done a really good job in that area."
Jauron has seen a lot of players come into the NFL and he likes what he sees in Sheard.
"We liked him so much (coming into the draft)," Jauron said. "We liked him enough to draft him that high. He's just a really good player and is probably underappreciated at this point. "He appears to be a really good teammate and that's what you want.
"He's not a giant defensive end, but most tight ends can't handle him and he does a nice job of controlling the position."
Shurmur on Hillis: Coming off a 99-yard rushing game, Shurmur was asked to assess RB Peyton Hillis fitting in to the West Coast offense.
"Good runners are a fit for any offense," he said. "He can run all of the types of runs that you see in the NFL.
"I think he's a very explosive runner and unfortunately had to fight back from injury this year," Shurmur said. "I thought he played well last week. I have an appreciation for what he brings to the game. You wish he would've been able to be healthy all year."
Hillis is a free agent after the season and Shurmur didn't want to talk about contractual issues. For the season, Hillis has 445 yards on 127 carries for a 3.5 average with three touchdowns in eight games. He has caught 19 passes for 133 yards. That would project over a 16-game schedule to just under 900 yards with six touchdowns.
"We want outstanding players at all positions, but I will leave the contract stuff to others," Shurmur said. "I just look forward to having him play effectively the next two games."
McCoy Still Out: QB Colt McCoy still didn't practice Wednesday, leaving him just one day of practice before Saturday's game. It has been 13 days since McCoy was knocked out of the game with a concussion by LB James Harrison.
"Colt hasn't been cleared," Shurmur said. "He was here, but wasn't cleared for practice. It's still the effects of the concussion."
Shurmur was asked if he was willing to rule McCoy out for this game.
Besides, McCoy, DB T.J. Ward (foot) isn't practicing, nor is WR Jordan Norwood (concussion). Shurmur said that DB Joe Haden (thigh bruise) won't do much. WR Mohamed Massaquoi (foot) and DL Scott Paxson (hand) was limited.
Ward has missed six games and it appeared he was getting close to playing.
"He leveled off as far as coming back," he said. "It will probably be tough for him to make it back this week."
Shurmur was asked why he wasn't placed on injured reserve.
"We felt he had been progressing to the point where we thought he could play," he said. "That's why we're doing it.
"That's a decision where at a position with not enough players to either allow him to get better or put him on injured reserve and get another body."
Brown's Future: Against the Cardinals, rookie DB Buster Skrine rotated with DB Sheldon Brown at cornerback. Skrine made his first NFL interception and Shurmur was asked if Brown has a future with the Browns.
"I'd like to think he's got a future in this league," Shurmur said. "He's played extremely well for us and I've mentioned before I've got a lot of respect for Sheldon, not only his play on the field, but his professionalism and what he is as a person.
"I've known him a very long time and I've got a lot of respect for him," he said. "We'll see, but as you get up there in age we all know, you can't play as long as you did when you were younger."
Brown, 32, has 10 passes broken up and one interception.
"He's very skilled and a really smart, proud player," Jauron said.
Skrine is a player that Shurmur thinks can be a key player at cornerback.
"I think Buster has a chance to be a productive player in this league," Shurmur said. "As he finishes the season and comes into the off-season there are things he can do."
Gronk Ready: Shurmur said the plans are to try and get newly signed TE Dan Gronkowski ready to play this week against the Ravens. With TE Ben Watson and TE Alex Smith, the primary blocking tight ends, Gronkowski is expected to provide blocking help immediately.
"We're getting him ready to play," Shurmur said. "He obviously, won't have the playbook down, but he'll learn the game plan for this game."