When it comes to Ohio football, at least in recent years, the one thing you could count on is change. But perhaps even that might finally be changing, at least in Cleveland, with the Browns finally showing hints of turning the corner into becoming not just a respectable football team, but a respectable organization.
In their first season with new head coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry—both their first year holding a position of that ranking—the Browns posted their best season in decades, going 11-5 in the regular season and advancing to the postseason, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wildcard Round before being taken down by the eventual AFC champions, the Kansas City Chiefs.
And with that success comes…stability? Maybe? Baker Mayfield, drafted with the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, has already had three different head coaches and three different offensive coordinators. The 2021 season will represent the first of his career in which there will not be change here.
Stefanski impressed in his first season, which included his retention of calling the plays, something that helped put him on the radar for head coaching jobs in the first place. But he has a strong working relationship with Alex Van Pelt, who is also capable of calling plays, and did so in their winning playoff game when Stefanski was required to sit out due to Covid-19 protocols. And that can only mean good things for Mayfield.
“He is very excited not to learn a new offense”, Stefanski told reporters recently during his post-season press conference, speaking of his franchise quarterback. “That is a huge part of this. We can start at that baseline and we can start that foundation and build on what we have done to date”.
Mayfield actually attempted fewer than 500 passes this year, which is seemingly rare for a starting quarterback these days who plays 16 games. In all, he completed 305 of his 486 attempts for 3563 yards with 26 touchdowns to only eight interceptions, dramatically cutting down his turnover rate and ratio. Which is something that Stefanski stressed.
“He did a very good job taking care of the ball, just learning the system and some of the intricacies of this system”, he said. “I knew that it was going to get better over time with losing the offseason. I think we saw that from Baker”.
“Once he started getting comfortable with what we were doing and once I was using more concepts that he was comfortable with, which is a big part of this, he really started playing at a high level”, he continued. “I am proud of the progress he made, but if I had to say one thing, I would say just taking care of that football”.