The Cleveland Browns signed Austin Hooper to the largest deal ever for a tight end this offseason. Without putting in some additional work during a modified offseason, it would be difficult for him to meet the lofty expectations placed upon him entering the first season with his new team. However, the tight end was able to get some additional work after quarterback Baker Mayfield invited Hooper out to Texas for a throwing session earlier this year.
"I was staying at Baker's house for like two or three weeks so we had a good time when we were practicing and when we were not practicing," Hooper told media during a virtual press conference Wednesday. "I definitely think that was kind of the initial spark that really helped our chemistry. In terms of this interesting situation we have now, we are still able to be around each other in the building and still get reps. Are they full speed? No, but the ability to be around each other and being able to work with each other, I feel like the more time you put in with each other, just the better that relationship will grow."
The two players were able to log "a few hundred reps" during that time.
The tight end revealed that Mayfield was actually one of the reasons he chose to sign with the AFC North franchise.
"Baker, obviously talented, a strong arm," Hooper said. "He has a real competitive fire. Those are the two deals that really made me want to sign here were Baker and just his style of quarterback -- him being aggressive, has that swag with him, which I do want. I want to play for a quarterback who has that to them a little bit, and obviously, the arm talent is there. It was a really easy decision for me."
There are parallels to be drawn between the offense that coach Kevin Stefanski plans to employ in Cleveland and the one Kyle Shanahan called in Atlanta with Hooper in 2016.
"Schematically, it is very similar -- a lot of outside zone, play-action keepers, the three-to-five-step concepts are similar and the play-action shots that come off of it are very similar," Hooper said. "For me, it is refreshing because, in my four seasons at Atlanta, I had three different coordinators and had to learn three different offenses. It is cool to be back in something that I already know."
Can Cleveland overcome the complications brought on by COVID-19 to achieve success in 2020?
"The only way to get better at football is by playing more football, and without as much, especially with a new system, could there possibly be some growing pains? Who knows?" Hooper said. "The way that Coach Stefanski and the offensive staff, speaking on my side of the ball, have done such a great job of articulating the new offense and teaching it to us, being a new guy in this offense, I feel pretty comfortable already. I am just really excited to get on the grass and get after it when we are able to do so safely."
In four seasons, the Stanford product has accumulated 214 receptions for 2,244 yards and 16 touchdowns. Along with David Njoku, Hooper promises to be an integral piece to the Cleveland offense.
The Browns are scheduled to open the season Sep. 13 against the Ravens.