Newsmakers: Pat Shurmur delivers 2 straight, Joe Thomas rips Peyton Hillis

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Scott Sargent returns with a December installment of Newsmakers, where the Browns are attempting to finish strong.

Scott Sargent returns with a December batch of Newsmakers. The Browns head coach remains in the top spot, but this time, there's a positive spin.

1. Pat Shurmur, head coach, Cleveland Browns (last week: 1)

Two in a row! Not only did the Cleveland Browns manage to equal their win total from all of 2012 during their trip to Oakland, they won two consecutive games for the first time since September of 2011. Once again, it wasn't pretty -- the boys in Orange and Brown allowed the Raiders cut their deficit to three points as the clock essentially struck zeroes.

But credit Shurmur for having faith in three rookies who would play key roles in a what was a 90-yard drive to put his team up by two scores. Credit to Shurmur whose defense executed the prevent defense as flawlessly as possible. Credit to a head coach who, despite all of his flaws, managed to win a game on the west coast and give his team the potential to win their third-straight this Sunday at home.

He may not instill a lot of confidence in fans, but Pat Shurmur is making a strong case for his employment with the Cleveland Browns beyond 2012; at the very least, he's auditioning for jobs subsequent to his time in Cleveland. It may be too little, too late but too little is undoubtedly an improvement from nothing. Silver linings, people.

Quote of the week: "Each game, you find a way to either win the game or lose the game. I'm happy for our guys."

2. Anderson Varejao, center, Cleveland Cavaliers (last week: 9)

An absolute shame that we had Varejao ninth in the last edition, the one affectionately known as Wild Thing has been everything his name lends him to be -- leading the league in rebounding, Varejao is in the top 10 in NBA PER and is pulling down boards at a rate only topped by Dennis Rodman back in his heyday of collecting Defensive Player of the Year awards.

Averaging more than 15 points and 15 rebounds per game, Varejao is the only player in the league to be able to claim this accomplishment; he's one of nine to even average a double-double.

Prior to the team's game against the Chicago Bulls, head coach Byron Scott said that there is absolutely nothing else that the team could ask from him. Ask any other head coach in the league if they have any players like this and Varejao would see his name alongside a very rarified group.

3. Chris Antonetti, general manager, Cleveland Indians (last week: unranked)

Like many of the men he employs, Chris Antonetti has traveled to the MLB winter meetings and has proceeded to strike out swinging. Outfielder Shane Victorino turned down more guaranteed money from the Indians to sign with the Boston Red Sox. Jason Bay turned down an offer from the Tribe to go play with the Seattle Mariners. Eyeing up Kevin Youkilis, once again, the veteran corner infielder is staring at an offer from the New York Yankees. A lot of these pitches may be well off of the plate, but Antonetti is hacking away nonetheless, with the best outcome being a foul tip.

The Indians' general manager is also the center of what could wind up being the biggest trade to go down during the winter meetings - a four-team deal involving multiple All-Stars and highly-touted prospects. Will he be able to get the deal done? With so many teams involved, the consummation is obviously well beyond his sole control. But in a city where perception reigns supreme, if the Indians come out of yet another winter meeting with nothing to show, the attendance numbers and television ratings will only continue to plummet.

There are only a few pitches left. Can Antonetti make them count?

4. Romeo Crennel, head coach, Kansas City Chiefs (last week: unranked)

No longer a Cleveland personality, Romeo Crennel became one of a national scope following the tragedy which occurred Saturday morning at Arrowhead Stadium. Crediting his strong upbringing, Crennel was able to not only keep his team focused in the wake of losing a teammate, but the otherwise barren team came away with the victory.

Incidentally, it is the Chiefs who will heading to Cleveland this Sunday, providing a bit of a reunion for the former Browns head coach; he will bring former Browns quarterback Brady Quinn and former Browns running back Peyton Hillis with him. Emotionally charged (or potentially emotionally drained), Crennel will try to win back-to-back contests. He was called a "rock" by Quinn for what he has meant to their collective franchise. Regardless of what fan opinion was of RAC upon his firing, it's tough to not admire the man for everything he stands for, even if it doesn't amount to a slew of wins on the football field.

5. Joe Thomas, left tackle, Cleveland Browns (last week: unranked)

It would come as no surprise if there are diehard fans of the Cleveland Browns who have never heard Joe Thomas speak in his five seasons with the team. He's the Teller in a room full of Penns.

It is for this reason that the All-Pro offensive lineman's thoughts on the aforementioned Hillis rang loud, the 312-pound volcano erupting on Wednesday afternoon. Thomas dubbed Hillis' time in Cleveland as "toxic," going as far as stating that he would have no one on his side if the team was forced to choose. Rarely does another player call out a peer for contractual reasons, but Thomas, at this point, gets carte blanche for his few-and-far-between words.

It also comes as no surprise that Thomas, just one day after his commentary on a former teammate, was named Walter Payton "Man of the Year" for the second time in three seasons.

6. Asdrubal Cabrera, shortstop, Cleveland Indians (last week: unranked)

It was less than one year ago when Asdrubal Cabrera sat at a podium within the bowels of Progressive Field, a new contract extension freshly signed, stating that he would like to finish his career with the Cleveland Indians.

Fast forward to today and it is Cabrera who continues to see his name bantered about as an asset that will likely be used to obtain additional depth, specifically among the pitching ranks. As discussed above, the All-Star shortstop's future will be in the hands of Chris Antonetti. For two straight seasons, Cabrera has shown up to training camp overweight; it also provided seasons of the shortstop having considerable decline into the autumnal months. It's obvious the team has other ideas when it comes to the future at the 6-spot. It was fun while it lasted.

7. Trent Richardson, running back, Cleveland Browns (last week: unranked)

Another week, another touchdown for the Browns' third-overall selection. While Richardson did not carve up the Oakland Raiders defense as much as hoped, he was an integral ingredient in the 90-yard, fourth quarter drive that helped seal the win for the Orange and Brown.

Surely, the season had by Tampa Bay's Doug Martin is to be acknowledged, but to assume this discrepancy will be the case through the players' respective careers is extremely irresponsible. Richardson has stepped in during his rookie season, provided numbers and off-field leadership. The future remains bright and T-Rich will continue to be one of the men holding the lights.

8. Kyrie Irving, point guard, Cleveland Cavaliers (last week: 2)

Though the Cavaliers started out well without the reigning Rookie of the Year, things have taken a bit of a turn for the worst as they sit with a 4-15 record. There are rumblings that the team is being overly conservative with their start, taking the losses as they come with sights set on the future.

Still two weeks away from rejoining his team on the court, Irving has been approved for light workouts, including the occasional pre-game shooting. Following two-straight 10-point losses which include dreadful first-quarter play, this two weeks cannot expire fast enough.

9. Jimmy Haslam III, majority owner, Cleveland Browns (last week: unranked)

Owner, operator and lead mind behind "Road Tested," the Travel Channel reality-based show surrounding the Cleveland Browns. While the editing is heavy and the premier was all over the map, one thing is for certain: Haslam is bound and determined to rebuild a brand long been ignored. Whether national folks can relate to Road Tested or not means very little. His team is on television and any additional exposure is a good thing when building awareness. And with awareness hopefully comes additional talent. And with the talent comes wins.

Not a terrible formula.

10. Dion Waiters, shooting guard, Cleveland Cavaliers (last week: 3)

Like Irving, Waiters has spent the last couple of games on the shelf thanks to a sprained ankle suffered late in a double-overtime contest. Unlike Irving, the team has failed to step up in his absence, putting up sub-par offensive numbers and featuring a different starting lineup in each of the last two games; a third lineup is not out of the question.

He's listed as day-to-day, but had a walking boot on under his suit pants on Wednesday evening. When Waiters returns remains to be seen, but the Cavaliers will continue to struggle without him despite his up-and-down freshman campaign.

Honorable mention: Brandon Weeden, Sheldon Brown, Josh Gordon, Braxton Miller, Urban Meyer, Shin-Soo Choo, Vinnie Pestano, Terry Francona,

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