The early meetings have already stirred the excitement inside new Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. Watching film of the key players who will play the biggest roles in 2020 and beyond elevate it even more.
Van Pelt is already hard at work with head coach Kevin Stefanski and the experienced coaches who surround them in all directions as the Browns look to bring the best out of the talent they have at a number of offensive positions.
"To have the opportunity to come in and help build an offense from the ground up is exciting," Van Pelt said. "There are starting points, but to get to work with those guys and have Kevin in there just kind of make it our offense from Day 1 is pretty cool. The most important thing now is to get this system in place and make it as easy and friendly for the players so we can get off the ground and start rolling.
"You understand the passion of the Browns fans and the toughness of the city and the grittiness of the city. That's obviously appealing. Having the opportunity to come here and work for the Haslams and to have the talent that's here right now on board with the offense is a great opportunity."
Van Pelt, after two seasons as quarterbacks coach in Cincinnati, knows the personnel well after squaring off with the Browns four times in the last two years. And with 15 years of experience coaching quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers -- on top of the decade he logged as an NFL player -- Van Pelt brings the kind of diverse skill set to the position Stefanski -- a versatile, experienced offensive coach himself -- knew he wanted when he took the reins as head coach of the Browns.
"We were looking for a guy that could come in here and really work together with the offensive staff that's in place, work with me as we all talk about our vision for what we want our offense to look like," Stefanski said. "Just be able to bring this all together, be able to take the great ideas from the offensive staff and mold this thing into the Browns offense, Browns system."
Van Pelt broke a number of Dan Marino's records during his playing days at the University of Pittsburgh and became only the fifth collegiate player to throw for 2,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. It was there where Van Pelt got his first taste of West Coast offense principles under coach Paul Hackett, a former Browns offensive coordinator (1981-82) who later worked under legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh.
An eighth-round pick by his hometown Steelers in the 1993 NFL Draft, Van Pelt later signed with the Buffalo Bills and found a home as both a player and coach. Van Pelt backed up Hall of Famer Jim Kelly at the start of his career and did the same for a number of others from 1995-2003. He appeared in 31 games and made 11 starts, eight of which came during the 2001 season.
"I think so highly of Alex from that regard because he played the position at a high level collegiately and in the pros," Stefanski said. "When you're a backup quarterback, there's so much that goes into that from a preparation standpoint. It's no surprise then that a lot of those guys become great coaches because they understand what it takes to prepare for an NFL game from that position when you're not getting any reps oftentimes. I just think that's made him a better coach."
Van Pelt spent two years in Buffalo after his playing career as a radio analyst before heading overseas in 2005 to coach the quarterbacks and call plays for the Frankfurt Galaxy (NFL Europe). He returned to Buffalo one year later to join the Bills' staff in 2006 as a volunteer assistant. He quickly rose the ranks from there, going from a quality control coach to quarterbacks coach (2008) before taking over as offensive coordinator in 2009.
After two years as the quarterbacks coach in Tampa Bay, Van Pelt got the opportunity to diversify his coaching resume as the running backs coach in Green Bay. Working under Mike McCarthy, who was a graduate assistant at Pitt during Van Pelt's playing days, Van Pelt got to know the intricacies of a new position for two seasons before shifting to quarterbacks coach in 2014.
"It's definitely helped. There's no question," Van Pelt said. "That was a great opportunity for me to learn more about offensive football and how the running back mind thinks. That was huge and beneficial. Also, he allowed me to coach receivers for a year when I was coaching the quarterbacks. To have that group in the room, it broadens your perspective of offensive football."
Van Pelt, of course, worked closely with Aaron Rodgers as quarterbacks coach from 2014-17, a stretch in which Rodgers completed 64 percent of his passes for 14,305 yards, 125 touchdowns and just 26 interceptions. In 2016, Rodgers led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes and became just the second QB in NFL history (Tom Brady, 2015) to post 600-plus attempts and seven or fewer INTs in a season. Rodgers was named NFL MVP in 2014 after totaling 4,381 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 112.2 rating.
"As much as we worked together, I probably learned just as much from him as I was able to teach him," Van Pelt said. "Just having those experiences with an elite player and being able to work side by side with him every day has helped me so much as a coach."
Van Pelt's two seasons in Cincinnati tasked him to work with a veteran (Andy Dalton) and multiple players at the early stages of their respective careers (Jeff Driskel, Ryan Finley). He embraced both sides of the challenge and is chomping at the bit to work with Baker Mayfield, who will enter his third NFL season in 2020.
"I evaluated him as a QBs coach for the draft and I was obviously impressed," Van Pelt said. "Playing against him for the last two years, you see the type of competitor he is, the type of player he is on the field, loves the game, plays it with passion, those are all the things you're looking for in a great player."
The players around Mayfield draw a similar response from Van Pelt, who inherits an offense that produced two 1,000-yard wide receivers (Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.) and an 1,000-yard running back (Nick Chubb) in the same season for the first time in franchise history. Van Pelt sees those players' respective skill sets meshing well with what the Browns want to do on offense under his watch.
"It all starts with the run game and the play-action off it and the keepers that come off from the action," Van Pelt said. "Obviously having Nick is huge and Kareem (Hunt), those two are two of the best in the league. The outside receivers are tremendous players. To be able to come in and put an offense together with two 1,000 yard receivers and a 1,400 yard rusher is pretty exciting as a coach."
Months remain before those players will have a shot at compiling yards in 2020. The work is just beginning, and Van Pelt will be a main figure in the collective effort to rejuvenate the Browns' offensive attack.
"I think his work with the different guys he's had over his career is very impressive," Stefanski said. "Just like me, he's been in a ton of different systems. There's a really fun discussion when we put up a play and say, 'what'd you call this or how'd you teach this?'
"I think we're really trying to get to the bottom of how we want to run the Browns system next year."
Alex Van Pelt's NFL Playing Background:
1995-2003 Buffalo Bills, quarterback
Alex Van Pelt's Coaching Background:
2005: Frankfurt Galaxy, quarterbacks coach
2005: Buffalo Bills, volunteer offensive quality control coach
2006: University at Buffalo, quarterbacks/passing game coordinator
2006-07: Buffalo Bills, offensive quality control coach
2008-09: Buffalo Bills, quarterbacks coach
2009: Buffalo Bills, offensive coordinator
2010-11: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, quarterbacks coach
2012-13: Green Bay Packers, running backs coach
2014: Green Bay Packers, quarterbacks coach
2015: Green Bay Packers, quarterbacks/wide receivers coach
2016-17: Green Bay Packers, quarterbacks coach
2018-19: Cincinnati Bengals, quarterbacks coach
2020: Cleveland Browns, offensive coordinator