- The company line in Berea is that the free agent from Buffalo is the starter, and the No. 1 overall pick will sit and learn—despite the flashes Baker Mayfield has shown. Plus, the search for Joe Thomas’s replacement, the Josh Gordon saga, Tim Couch’s view on the QBs, and an escape RV
WHO: Cleveland Browns
WHERE: Berea, Ohio
WHEN: Monday, July 30
HOW: Drove from Detroit
Hard Knocks’ drone cameras circled overhead, robotically humming, as Hue Jackson broke down his team at the end of Cleveland’s fifth training camp practice. Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has yet to throw an interception and has shown pinpoint accuracy and an impressive understanding of the offense. Mayfield practiced with the second team on Monday, as he has been all training camp, while Tyrod Taylor has handled the first team reps. Mayfield established a connection with third-year receiver Rashard Higgins, who says he goes to the rookie with his questions about new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s system. “He is always open to questions that I have, because I have a lot of questions, and he is always teaching me,” Higgins says. “He’s always quizzing me, Hey, what do you got on this? I can ask him, Hey, give me a play and I’m going to try to draw it.”
Mayfield’s best showing at practice came on Sunday, when he threw a deep back-shoulder pass to Higgins, who ran his route high to the pylon. Mayfield adjusted off the defender’s location to thread his pass directly to Higgins’ back shoulder. “He was like, Hey man, you took it too high,” Higgins says. “Coach Haley told me to keep it high in walk through, and when I kept it high Baker brought me back over, because he was like, the defender is right there. That’s being a pro.”
On Sunday, Jackson said that Mayfield has “exceeded expectations.” But though the rookie has done everything asked of him and more, the Browns are still Taylor’s team, and a redshirt, or at least partial redshirt, season for Mayfield is the plan. After Monday’s practice, a reporter pressed Jackson on Mayfield’s rank, given his exceeding expetations. I know you’ve told us 50 times, but are you tempted by Mayfield’s performance?
“Do I have to say it 51 times?” Jackson asked, clearly annoyed by this topic again. "No, I do not have temptation that way. Baker Mayfield is doing great. Tyrod Taylor is doing great. This thing is going to play out just like I told you it would. I’m not going to change. You guys are judging every day what happens and this might happen, that might happen. I’m not like that. We’re going to grow our football team. We’re going to grow our quarterbacks. Tyrod Taylor is our quarterback.”
Jackson sounds like he won’t budge, but we’ve heard these lines before. Whether we see Mayfield this season or not will depend on how the team performs in the first few games with Taylor. Sticking with Taylor, the most conservative quarterback in the league, is clearly the safe choice, but is it the best one? During Monday’s practice, each time a quarterback attempted a tricky pass or a deep pass, a fan in the stands shouted loudly, “DON’T TRY TO DO TOO MUCH!”
Hmmm… sounds like the Browns’ approach to their rookie star.
“OH, I DIDN’T KNOW THAT": Cleveland is really happy with its 2018 draft class so far. In addition to Mayfield, cornerback Denzel Ward has impressed with his speed, second-rounder Austin Corbett is competing for the starting left tackle spot, second-round running back Nick Chubb had a good day Monday, third round defensive end Chad Thomas is back from a sports hernia injury and even fifth-round linebacker Genard Avery has had a good camp.
STORYLINE TO WATCH: When will Josh Gordon return? Will he ever return? The Browns put Gordon, the receiver who was reinstated midway through last season, on the reserve/did not report list after Gordon tweeted that he would not be attending the start of training camp so that he could follow his “health and treatment plan.” Initial reports that Gordon was facing a suspension were shot down, and according to ESPN, Gordon’s absence is because he is seeking “additional counseling to deal with his mental health and anxiety” issues. His current status on the Did Not Report list means he will have to apply for reinstatement, and Roger Goodell will have to approve it.
Receivers Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins say they’ve been in touch with Gordon since camp started in his absence. “I just reached out to him and told him that he has my full support and that we miss him,” Landry says. “I told him we could use him out here, we could use some more receiver legs running out here. I’m praying for him. I just gave him that encouragement that whatever he is going through, we can’t wait to have him back.”
TOP POSITION BATTLE: Left tackle. Browns stalwart Joe Thomas retired in March. In his place, Cleveland is testing 2016 third-rounder Shon Coleman, who started at right tackle last season, and rookie second-rounder Austin Corbett, who played left tackle all four years at Nevada. The team could also decide to slide left guard Joel Bitonio over to tackle. Coleman took first-team reps at Sunday’s practice. “Getting all this work against [defensive end] Myles [Garrett] is going to be good for him because every team has a Myles,” says right guard Kevin Zeitler.
OFFBEAT OBSERVATION: There’s an RV parked in the lot at the Browns facility, and apparently it was Baker Mayfield who parked it there. Veteran quarterback Drew Stanton requested that the rookie Mayfield to bring an RV to training camp so the QBs could have somewhere to escape to when they get a little stir-crazy after so many hours spent inside the facility. Higgins has been inside the RV, and says an upgrade is in the works. “It’s pretty nice,” he says. “I think they have a bigger one coming. It is supposed to be the real deal, like five beds.”
PARTING THOUGHTS: Tim Couch chatted with Mayfield and then held court with reporters after the Browns’ morning walk-through on Monday. Couch was the reborn Browns’ original No. 1 draft pick in 1999, their first season as an expansion team after the original franchise relocated to Baltimore in 1996.
Couch must have been hitting the gym since his playing career ended in 2004, because he looked more like an active linebacker than a retired quarterback. He was asked for his advice for Mayfield and echoed the Browns’ company line about not rushing the rookie’s development. Couch would know. He took over as the starter in the second game of his rookie season, and had an inconsistent and injury-plagued five-year career. “I know he’s had so much success coming off a Heisman Trophy year and all the things he did at Oklahoma, a record-setting career,” Couch said. “I’m sure he expects to walk right in here in the NFL, and then, have that type of success, and I did too.
“I think every high draft pick thinks that, but this is a rebuilding football team. Are they better than they were a year ago? Absolutely. There’s so much more talent on this team than there was a year ago. He’s in a much better situation now, but still, you just have to be patient and don’t expect too much too soon.”
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