CLEVELAND – Tyrod Taylor doesn’t look back much, and he doesn't harbor hard feelings toward the Cleveland Browns, his opponent Sunday and his employer in 2018 as their bridge quarterback to top overall pick Baker Mayfield.
What would be the point of that for the Texans’ passer?
Taylor, the replacement for embattled Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson, is coming off a strong performance in leading the Texans to a 37-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars to open the season. He spent one season in Cleveland one year after an 0-16 season and was briefly the starter in front of Mayfield during the former Oklahoma star and Heisman Trophy winner’s rookie season, until he suffered a concussion in a Thursday night game and Hue Jackson replaced him after three games with Mayfield.
“I mean, any time you get a chance to play against your former team, it’s definitely an opportunity for you to showcase how you’ve progressed as a player,” Taylor said. “Everybody’s story is different. Am I excited to go back? Yes, I am. But it’s not about me, it’s about our team here and us working hard throughout this week and us executing on Sunday.
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"It’s never about me or my feelings when it comes going to play against previous teams. Yes, that is part of it, but I'm not going to make a big deal about it. It's about me executing at a high level this weekend as well as everyone else in the locker room."
Against the Jaguars, Taylor passed for 291 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 112.1 for his highest in a start since 2017 when he had a 126.0 with the Buffalo Bills in his third game of the season.
With the Browns, Taylor completed 49.1 percent of his throws for 473 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for a 64.5 passer rating and was sacked 13 times in three games and went 1-1-1 as the starter.
"I mean, obviously, it didn't end the way that I wanted it to end," Taylor said of his lone season in Cleveland. "But I think I grew as a person during that year, dealing with adversity, also becoming more of a vocal leader than I had before up until that time. Their team that we had in Cleveland in '18 was fairly young, so you had to find different ways to lead. At the time, I think I was like the third oldest on the team.
“Guys looked at me as the oldest guy, or one of the older players. More vocal at times. It's tough to remember or it's tough to take away from that year, but more important, I think it was more on the personal side than it was actually football."
During that time, Taylor shared a quarterback room and a quarterback-only private RV room with Mayfield, Drew Stanton and former undrafted free agent Brogan Roback. It was documented on HBO’s Hard Knocks program as a humorous subplot.
"That was a sacred space," Taylor said with a smile. "I can't tell those stories."
Since that time, Taylor has worked to hone his skills and keep striving for improvement. His position coach with the Bills and now his head coach in Houston, David Culley has witnessed strides from Taylor.
“His pocket presence is better,” Culley said. “He’s much better inside the pocket. He’s seeing things a lot better. He’s getting the ball out better than when I had him before.”
There are still areas that Culley wants to see Taylor get better at, including avoid potential interceptions. Taylor was nearly picked off at the start of the Jaguars game.
“I’d like to see him be a little more consistent and get off to a faster start,” Culley said. “With him throwing the football, we didn’t get off to the start we needed. He was just a little bit off early. That very first pass could have been an interception and could have had a bearing on the game. And he missed a throw after that.
“We’ve got to be right on when we’re throwing, especially when we’re throwing from the pocket. He’s got to be able to get it out on time.”
Signed to a one-year, $12.5 million contract, Taylor has passed for 10,061 career yards, 56 touchdowns and 20 interceptions for a 90.0 career passer rating. He spent a year backing up Philip Rivers with the Chargers and benefited from that experience.
“I think I’m much better,” Taylor said. “ I think I’ve been able to obviously learn a lot from that year, but also the two years after that with the Chargers. Watching Philip, how he prepared and even taking an offseason and preparing to become the starter last year and even going into this year. I think I definitely learned a lot and became a better player since then, and that’s always the goal, to be better this year than the year you were before.”
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Taylor is being coached for the second year in a row by Pep Hamilton, the Texans’ passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach who was his position coach last season in Los Angeles.
“Pep has done a good job of making sure his (passes) are on time and on rhythm,” Culley said. “He’s got to continue to do that.”
Taylor is building his timing and chemistry with wide receiver Brandin Cooks, trusting him on contested deep balls as they had five completions together for 132 yards against Jacksonville.
“Being on the same page, talking through a lot of concepts on the field, in the film room, texting each other, just constant communication making sure we’re seeing the defense from the same eyes,” Taylor said. “That way, we can execute by just reacting and trusting what each other’s going to do.”
“I think he’s done a great job,” Cooks said. “I think he’s done an unbelievable job with us receivers, tight ends, and backs, just getting on the same page throughout this camp.”
Mayfield, an emerging young quarterback who's under consideration for a blockbuster contract extension, has blossomed since Taylor left. He led the Browns to the playoffs last season as they earned their first playoff victory since 1994.
Mayfield enjoyed his interactions with Taylor during their lone season together.
"I think people took Tyrod for granted," Mayfield said. "He is an extremely good leader. His work ethic alone, his routine and being the same guy every day for every single person in the building, it is a tremendous way of showing his leadership.
"Obviously, he is a great athlete and great quarterback. Everything he taught me leading by example and doing different things, not that we lead the same way but there are always different ways to learn. I am very thankful to have stepped into a QB room with Drew Stanton and Tyrod that I was able to learn from those guys. It is something I am obviously very grateful for."
Taylor hasn’t spent a lot of time tracking Mayfield’s career. He’s focused on his own journey, which included losing his starting job last season with the Chargers when a team doctor accidentally punctured his lung while giving him a pain-killing injection for an injured rib.
“I have respect for Baker, but I have not,” Taylor said. “I'd be lying if I told you I followed his career."
It’s another case of looking forward, not backward.
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For the Texans, a 12 ½ point underdog following a decisive win over a team that finished 1-15 a year ago, no one is getting cocky, per Taylor.
“No one’s getting a big head,” Taylor said. “Guys are definitely confident in what they’re capable of doing, but we also understand that we didn’t play a perfect game. There’s stuff to clean up, and that’s what we’re working on this week while getting ready for Cleveland.
“As far as the swagger, I encourage that. I think it shows a confidence level that you have, but there’s still work to be done. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves.”
The Browns were a playoff team a year ago. Despite a narrow loss to the defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs to start the season, they’re regarded as a strong playoff contender and one of the top teams in the AFC.
“Obviously, these guys were in the playoffs last year, and they have tremendous talent on their roster,” Taylor said. “Our standard is our standard each and every week, though. For us to be the team that we have to be, we have to meet that standard, regardless of who we’re playing.”