Baker Mayfield has already made Todd Haley a believer and the Browns' future bright, and more notes
Haley says Mayfield's reputation of being a real leader was not overblown
He came off the bench and took apart the Jets in the second half in his first NFL appearance to lead the franchise to its first win since 2016, and put up 40 points on the road in his first NFL start and ended Cleveland's rut of 36 straight losing Sundays by beating Baltimore in overtime in his first home start. He's done it with a unique style and flair and a reach beyond his years. There are going to be some hiccups along the way, but the kid continues to flash everything you could hope to see out of a rookie quarterback and inspires nothing but confidence and belief from his coaches and teammates.
Over the weekend Browns coordinator Todd Haley told me about how, after his receivers were dropping balls and making mistakes early in Mayfield's first start, at Oakland, the youngster took command of the sideline and called the veterans over and let them have it a bit and coached them up and then went out and scored on three straight drives. It was just a snippet of the way coaches are already willing to delegate to him at times, and teammates continue to galvanize around him. And that, combined with his playmaking ability on the field, has the Browns poised to be more of a factor in the AFC North than they've been in longer than most of us can remember.
"That reputation he had of being a real leader, and guys gravitating to him, that's real," Haley told me. "I saw it going all the way to our workout with him at Oklahoma."
Like many, Haley wondered if the mythology of Mayfield was getting a little overblown during the pre-draft process -- until he watched Mayfield in his own environment in the Sooners' offices and practice field. "He was walking to the indoor facility and before he even got in the building he's doing this little whistle," Haley explained. "And all the guys were already in there warming up for him to be ready to catch passes and they start calling back to him and letting him know they were ready before he'd even walked through the door."
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The Browns, like every other quarterback-needy team (and frankly many teams with proven, established passers did more work on him than they usually might) made their pilgrimage to Norman, Oklahoma to work Mayfield out. It's a grinding process and one that gets monotonous for his teammates, who are needed there to help facilitate the drills (especially those who aren't draft eligible themselves). But the Sooners were out in force through the offseason and eager to make their quarterback look as good as they possibly could.
"That day was really kind of impressive," Haley said, "and something I took note of. When you see that kind of relationship and subtle leadership, you just saw the connect those guys had with him and they would do anything for him, whatever he needed. He'd probably done it 15 time for all the individual workouts he did, and they were all there early and showed up on cue and were already loosened up when he got there. A lot of times at those workouts you are waiting for guys to get here and standing around and they don't start on it. I thought that was an important little thing, all the way back in the process. Just a sign of things to come."
Mayfield is already eliciting the same kind of response from the Browns. Given the depth this organization sunk to, it's hard not to get caught up in the hype and hysteria. Mayfield himself doesn't seem like one to get too caught up in it, however, and the future in Cleveland appears brighter than at any time since they re-entered the NFL as an expansion team.
"There hasn't been one time when I haven't had confidence in him," Haley said. "In the preseason, and in practice, it hasn't always been perfect, and I was as interested as anybody if the size limitations would be an issue with the bigger defenders, but it hasn't been, and there hasn't been one time that I haven't had confidence that he had a chance to make a play."
DC Al Holcomb keeping Cardinals in games
It's been a tough start for the Arizona Cardinals, who finally won a game in Week 5, but that shouldn't take away from the job being done by defensive coordinator Al Holcomb. The Cardinals have barely scored at all – they rank dead-last with 58 points scored (Buffalo is next-worst with 63) and dead-last in time of possession (23:53, with Miami ranking 31st at 26:40) – and get no help from the offense, but are hanging around in games due solely to the work of the defense.
Rookie head coach Steve Wilks was smart to delegate to Holcomb, and – despite having recent first-round picks like Deone Bucannon and Hasaan Reddick not fit the scheme and providing very little – this unit is exceeding what could be expected of them. Holcomb has been moving Patrick Peterson all over the place to negate match-ups, he has turned Josh Bynes into a difference-maker at linebacker, and since a tough start in the first two weeks the Cardinals are allowing just 18 points per game their past three weeks (again, despite being on the field the entire game).
Getting this group to stick together in a new regime after such a brutal start – outscored 58-6 in the first two weeks – is no small accomplishment
- Tip of the cap to 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, as well. This season has spiraled away from San Francisco, a team that was built to be high scoring but lost its quarterback and running back for the season, and while the 49ers won't be meeting their lofty expectations, the defense has been better than expected. The verdict is out on John Lynch as a evaluator/team builder, with the selection of edge rusher Solomon Thomas producing little results and the signing of Richard Sherman the same, as he continues to battle injury. There ain't a lot to work with on that side of the ball beyond the formidable spine of DeForest Buckner and Rueben Foster, and Saleh's unit isn't getting help from the offense, but is more than doing its part. With no edge presence and a lack of coverage options, Saleh has been dealt a weak hand, yet the 49ers have managed to go ninth in yards per play and 11th in yards per game allowed and rank seventh against the rush …
- Have my share of problems with the way the Hall of Fame process operates, but would hope voters keep an open eye about Earnest Byner's candidacy. He played multiple positions and hybrid roles on some great teams, was a leader and galvanizing force, an extension of his coaches, and a dual threat whose impact on the game went beyond many of the stats of the time. Ask guys like Joe Gibbs and Marty Schottenheimer what they thought of him and how much he meant to their teams and how much they trusted him. Food for thought …
- The Chiefs defense will live or die with Dee Ford. After a very slow start he has emerged as a vital pass-rushing cog. He leads the NFL in combined QB hurries and hits through five weeks … And Jerry Hughes is tied for third in the NFL in that same category. He is approaching age 30 and for all the chatter about LeSean McCoy, Hughes would be the far greater tradeable commodity of the two on the open market. In fact, Buffalo would be myopic not to shop Hughes … I love me some Aaron Donald. But Buckner is my favorite interior crap-kicker to watch on film these days … Robby Anderson, Alex Collins and Michael Thomas are the only non-quarterbacks who rank in the NFL's top 13 in total fumbles thus far … The two leading pass catchers in the red zone in the entire NFL? Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, who have combined for 20 catches in 27 targets inside the 20, with four TDs.
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