There is certainly a value in offseason team activities, but given head coach Kevin Stefanski's approach, Baker Mayfield hosting the offensive weapons in Austin, Texas could be the best option for the Cleveland Browns.
Browns OTA's have had a deliberate pace. Slower, focusing on teaching and hammering home technique. Extremely necessary for players just joining the team as well as building cohesion on a defense that needs to not only learn the scheme, but be able to communicate effectively. It's also important for Stefanski to send the message both to players but also to coaches not to get ahead of themselves, so they are focusing on fundamentals, the team's foundation, rather than just trying to pick up where they left off last year.
That's not as critical for the offensive skill positions that have a pretty firm grasp of the base offense and continue to attend virtual meetings. They have the freedom to train on their own terms as they know their bodies and may have specific ways they prefer to train. For some of these players, they may be going with more intensity in terms of physical training before they recalibrate as the team gets into practicing and preparing for training camp.
That doesn't mean they don't need coaching. Of course they do, but they have time for that and the virtual meetings help in that aspect regardless of their location. They have access to coaches and can easily reach out to get additional feedback.
These offensive sessions hosted by Mayfield and the offense are not new. They have done these in the past including last year and this isn't even the first time this season. Some of the offense has already gotten together in Florida for throwing sessions.
Rather than go at the slower, more deliberate pace of Stefanski's OTA's, the offensive skill players is going to be able to have their own focus in what they are trying to get done, including improved chemistry in the passing game.
Further, it strengthens the bonds of that group. And given how Mayfield played down the stretch, the team really took on more of Mayfield's personality. It really became his team. Whether it was the finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers or either of his playoff performances, there was a moment in each contest where Mayfield made a statement to his teammates.
In the final game of the regular season, Mayfield rushed for the first down to ensure the victory, clinching their first playoff berth since 2002. In the wildcard round, there was a drive in the second half when the Steelers were building momentum and Mayfield effectively stopped it, leading a drive that put the game out of reach.
Finally, against the Chiefs in the Divisional Round, after a disappointing first half which concluded with a Rashard Higgins fumble out the back of the end zone and another Chiefs field goal, Mayfield basically willed the team into competing in the second half. The offense followed him and they were able to claw back into the game, giving themselves an opportunity to win. Their efforts were not enough, in a game they were expected to be annihilated, the Chiefs had to escape with the win.
With a year in Stefanski's offense and pretty firmly now Mayfield's team, the offense is working to build on what they were able to accomplish last year. And Mayfield is almost certainly going to be effectively running their training sessions, continuing to grow in his leadership role. Not only has he proven himself as a person to them, but he has the results on the field, giving him added credibility.
For the week during OTA's before they all head back to Cleveland for mandatory minicamp, this could be valuable in terms of putting them in the right headspace and building their confidence in that aspect of the game based on intrinsic motivations rather than needing coaches to push them.
Jarvis Landry has been outstanding in the aspect of building that brotherhood or family dynamic with the wide receivers and this provides another avenue for Mayfield to continue growing that, since everyone is back from last year's team.
The offense is expected to be good, improving on what they were able to do last year. The passing aspect of the offense that didn't really start coming together until around week seven of the season still left something to be desired heading in the postseason. This season provides an opportunity to evolve and expand on what they did last year.
There's pressure on Mayfield to continue playing at a high level and to do it for the full season.
Austin Hooper is coming off an uncharacteristically poor season as a receiving threat. He might have as much pressure on him as any player on the Browns entering 2021.
While there have been flashes, the Odell Beckham trade has not worked to this point. Heading into year three, it still has a world of potential, but it needs to prove itself consistently. Anything short of being a playmaker on offense is likely going to met with significant criticism, fair or not.
David Njoku looked great at the end of the year and is entering a contract year with the potential to firmly become the team's top tight end.
Jarvis Landry has only missed one game in three years, but he earns more praise for what he does off the field for the Browns than what he's done on it after his second underwhelming season out of three.
Donovan Peoples-Jones and Harrison Bryant have opportunities to build on promising rookie contributions.
KhaDarel Hodge flashed, but missed a ton of time due to hamstring injuries.
Anthony Schwartz has to prove he can do more than just run fast.
Rashard Higgins has had two non-consecutive seasons where he was the most efficient receiver on the team. Can he reproduce it and really announce himself as a consistent contributor?
There isn't a single player skill player in passing game that doesn't have some question or lingering doubt heading into this season even as the team overall enjoyed so much success in 2020 and they all know it.
Coming together in a forum like this one enables these players to come to grips with the fact they still have plenty to prove as well as working to improve despite an overwhelming amount of talent. They are not only pushing themselves, but this helps them to push each other and be invested in the success of the entire group over the individual.
As much as there is concern about OTA's and how many players are attending their respective team workouts, the Browns are only focused on what's best for the Browns and this initiative by Baker Mayfield and the offensive skill players could be exactly what this group needs before minicamp.