Baker Mayfield with Hue Jackson, his first NFL head coach after being drafted by the Browns in 2018. Mayfield's relationship with Freddie Kitchens was constantly scrutinized during Kitchens' lone season as the Browns' head coach last year. Ironically, the best stretch of success for Mayfield in Cleveland came with Gregg Williams, a longtime defensive coordinator, served as the Browns' interim head coach during the second half of Mayfield's rookie season. Mayfield, who is coming off an extremely disappointing season for both himself and the Browns, has quickly become a fan of his new head coach, Kevin Stefanski. While they have yet to meet in person, Mayfield has received "virtual coaching" from Stefanski and new offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Alex Van Pelt.
"Every interaction I've had with Kevin has been great," Mayfield said during the team's schedule release show, via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com "He's climbed the ladder very quickly because he's very well-respected and he's an extremely sharp guy. He knows what he's doing. He knows the exact approach that he wants to attack with and he just does that."
Stefanski, who helped Minnesota finish eighth in the NFL in scoring during his lone seasons as the team's offensive coordinator, is taking over a Browns team that fell well below expectation in 2019, winning just two of their first eight games while finishing with a 6-10 record. Cleveland's underwhelming record, along with Mayfield's dramatic regression in performance, were two of the main reasons behind the team deciding to make a fourth coaching change since the 2016 offseason.
Mayfield, who threw 27 touchdowns while completing 63.8% of his passes as a rookie, said that the 38-year-old Stefanski has already won the support of the locker room.
"He gets people to buy into that and believe that and that's what we're doing with our staff right now," Mayfield said. "I'm trying to get to know some of these other guys as we go along and Kevin's done a really great job alongside with [general manager] Andrew [Berry] of putting this staff together. It's been great so far."
Along with the various changes made to the front office and coaching staff, the Browns have also added pieces to what was already a talented roster. This offseason, Cleveland addressed their previous needs on the offensive line, acquiring offensive tackles Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills. The Browns also acquired and tight ends Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant while re-signing receiver Rashard Higgins, a 2016 fifth-round pick who caught a career-high five touchdowns during Mayfield's rookie season.
Cleveland also signed former starting NFL quarterback Case Keenum to backup Mayfield, a move that Mayfield .
"It's been very exciting for me just all the moves they're making," Mayfield said of the team's offseason acquisitions. "The guys they're bringing in, obviously talented guys, but mentality-wise and with the mindset that they have, I think we're putting the right pieces together. That's why we're trying to take advantage of this time right now, talking to these guys as much as I can, getting to know them."
Stefanski said that he doesn't want Mayfield to shoulder too much of the burden as it relates to the success of the offense. Conversely, he wants Mayfield's abilities to complement the rest of his offensive teammates, a group that also includes receivers Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, and running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
"I don't want them to be something they're not," Stefanski recently told ESPN's Scott Van Pelt, via the Browns' team website. "Quarterback is a lightning rod. That's the nature of the beast. [Baker] knows that.
"We've outlined some things we're going to help him with schematically and maybe technique-wise, but it's never a one-man show. Baker knows that and our team knows that. I think these guys are putting in the work to make sure we're ready to hit the ground running when we get together."
Stefanski has also embraced the current elements that he is dealing with as it relates to coaching in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"Players, young people are a resilient bunch and I think they learn under these unique circumstances," Stefanski said. "I think they're better equipped to do this than maybe any other generation. They're so in tune to the technological aspect of this whole thing. Our coaches are really attacking this and I think there's a lot of learning that's going on right now. The feedback I've gotten from the guys is very positive."
One player that has publicly shared his positive feedback has been Mayfield, who is clearly looking forward to his first season with Stefanski as his coach.