The biggest change Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will implement to elevate the play of Baker Mayfield is something Browns fans might not notice at all when they watch the quarterback take a snap.
Van Pelt, the Browns' new offensive coordinator, is tweaking some of Mayfield's routines from the shotgun position in coach Kevin Stefanski's new offensive system. In previous drop-backs, Mayfield had been taking his first step with his right foot. Now, he'll be taking it with his left foot, which is positioned slightly closer to the center in a shotgun snap.
The technique allows Mayfield to essentially take one less step to set his feet and drop back into the pocket with more fluidity. It's a small change that could be pivotal for Mayfield as he attempts to improve from last season, when he threw 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions and fell short of his personal goal of taking the Browns to their first playoff appearance since 2002.
Van Pelt, however, is confident that slight adjustments — like the foot Mayfield uses to begin his passing routine — will be crucial to Mayfield making the jump.
"There is more rhythm, and it's not as robotic," Van Pelt said about the new technique in February. "It's more fluid. I have always used the term that I want the feet to be like Mozart, and not like Metallica."
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Van Pelt has worked closely with Mayfield this offseason on his footwork, but with players and coaches limited to virtual communication, Van Pelt couldn't teach Mayfield the new techniques in person.
Instead, he turned to a golf app he's used for 10 years that uses slo-mo technology and enables Van Pelt to draw on the screen to help visualize where Mayfield should take his steps.
"It gives me the ability to share my screen with Baker, watch his feet and zoom all the way in," Van Pelt said Wednesday in a video call with local reporters. "It's actually a pretty cool tool. It's the first time I had really used it extensively to teach footwork, but it's been useful."
Van Pelt joked that the app has not done much to improve his own golf game — he admitted that was unfixable — but he's already reaped the benefits of the app when it's come to helping Mayfield, who's adapting to his third offensive playbook since he was the first overall pick in 2018.
Part of that adaptation has been the left-foot-first technique, which is the same style used by Andy Dalton and Aaron Rodgers, two quarterbacks Van Pelt formerly coached.
"It's just a different rhythm and timing," Mayfield said in May. "It's breaking some of the habits that I have had for a long time, but I am getting used to it. It's just about repetition, to be quite honest with you."
With Mayfield, Van Pelt can only adjust so much in technique. He believes that little tweaks, like footwork, will go a long way toward helping Mayfield perform most effectively in Stefanski's wide-zone offense, which is built around a run-first philosophy that should open up more play-action and deep-ball opportunities.
Mayfield has the tools to thrive in the scheme — many of his best throws last season came from play-action plays. Van Pelt believes it will work as long as Mayfield focuses on small changes and continues to learn every detail about the new playbook.
So far, Mayfield has checked all the boxes.
"Baker has been asking every right question," Van Pelt said. "He has done everything I would expect from him as a starting quarterback. His work ethic is great. He jumps into other meetings that are not required, and he will sit in the receiver meetings and running back meetings from time to time, as well. He is all in. He is doing exactly how we expect him to do it."
Van Pelt believes the changes will come naturally to Mayfield. The Browns certainly don't lack offensive weapons for their quarterback, and all signs seem to point toward increased production from Cleveland's offense next season.
For that to happen, Mayfield will need to take a step forward — literally.
This time, though, it's with his left foot, not his right.