Alex Van Pelt has spent the last month attempting to implement a heavy load of schemes, plays and setups in a short amount of time.
Since the Browns returned to Berea for the first time in 2020 for training camp, Van Pelt has been tasked with leading the offense through a new playbook built to make the most of the team's top weapons. Each position has needed to adapt to a different set of schemes and playbook terminology, but with a late start to team practices and zero preseason games, the process has been completed on a quick clock.
Van Pelt, the offensive coordinator, has done everything he can to keep up.
"The urgency is high right now," Van Pelt said Monday in a video call with local reporters. "Through training camp and the installation, we're still trying to figure out who we really are. We didn't have that time in spring. As we get through these next three or four days of practice, now, as an offensive group, I think we're starting to understand what we have, what we do well and how we can exploit defenses. As we get through this next stage of training camp and we start scaling down our installations and start really repping who we want to be and who we are, I think we will see that tighten up."
Check out photos from the eighth day of Browns Camp
One of the biggest pieces of Van Pelt's work so far has been centered on QB Baker Mayfield, who has undergone a new change in footwork Van Pelt believes could offer Mayfield another crucial second of time in the pocket.
Mayfield is switching which foot he takes his first step with as he takes a snap in the shotgun position. Rather than taking a step forward with his right foot, which he then needs to move back behind him as he pivots to throw, Mayfield takes the step with his left and can find a quicker rhythm from the pocket.
The technique change is a small, but potentially significant step (literally) Van Pelt believes can elevate Mayfield's play.
"He loves it," Van Pelt said. "As far as the rhythm and the timing, Baker put in a lot of work in the offseason, and our goal was to get him into that muscle memory and that comfort level where he's not thinking about his feet anymore and it's an automatic deal. There have been very few occasions where I would look at his feet and say, 'Hey, wait a second here. That is not what we are doing from a footwork standpoint.'"
Mayfield's rhythm is supposed to be in line with the routes of all receivers, too. This training camp, Mayfield has been able to take more snaps with Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns' top wideout who missed a large chunk of reps in training camp last year due to injuries that nagged him through the entire season.
Now that he's healthy, Beckham has made impressive plays in just about every practice so far. His juke moves and acceleration after the catch have been impressive, too.
When asked what shines most about Beckham, Van Pelt offered a predictable — but still exciting — answer.
"The freak nature of his athleticism," he said. "He can do a lot of things that guys can't do. He can start and stop on a dime. He can fly down the field when he turns it loose and starts to run. He can outrun arms with his speed. His ball skills, the catches that he makes on the go balls and the crazy one-handed catches, you see that come out. He is working as hard as he can right now, and we are continuing to see the types of routes that we would ask him to run."
Even the Browns' newer receivers have appeared to create a quick rapport with Mayfield. TE Austin Hooper, who signed a four-year deal with the Browns in the offseason, has caught nearly every ball thrown his way in full-speed team drills in camp. When Mayfield's first read is in tight coverage, he's often found Hooper, open in the middle of the field, waiting to pick up a first down.
The same can be said about rookie tight end Harrison Bryant. He's arguably been the most reliable target in red zone plays thus far and has flashed the same pair of steady hands the Browns loved when they selected him in the fourth round. Bryant has recently taken first-team reps in place of David Njoku, who's been out with a wrist injury, and has performed like a veteran.
"Oftentimes, the tight end is a quarterback's best friend," Van Pelt said. "They're easier throws. They're big targets. Having that rapport, I really think that stands for all our tight ends. Our tight ends have done a great job in this camp all the way down the line of being where they're supposed to be."
The biggest offseason project on offense, perhaps, has been the development of Jedrick Wills Jr. The first-round pick's transition to LT has progressed about as much as Van Pelt expected when he began the switch during the virtual offseason program.
Van Pelt knew there would be growing pains, but he's seen Wills progress now that he's taken live reps against veteran DEs Olivier Vernon and Myles Garrett — no easy tasks for a rookie lineman.
"The thing about Jed is he is going to get better every day," Van Pelt said. "He started out a little slow early on, just getting the tempo and the timing of the pass rushes, but he is getting better every day. That is what we are looking for is that arrow to continue to trend up."
That arrow has been pointing up for the entire offense since the first couple days of training camp. In recent practices, the number of impressive, well-executed plays has continued to grow despite the on-the-fly tempo Van Pelt has needed to prepare the offense for Week 1.
And with four training camp practices left, that pace won't change.
"We're trying to get all the teaching of the system down and in," Van Pelt said. "We're moving in that direction – very excited about it – but the sense of urgency has to be high. We don't have any time to waste."