Austin Hooper doing the 'dirty work' to lift surging Browns offense

Hooper has been the jack of all trades in helping Cleveland become one of the most efficient offenses in the league

Austin Hooper has carried one of the heaviest workloads of all Browns players in each of his five games with Cleveland.

Hooper, whom the Browns signed to a four-year deal over the offseason, has rarely left the field no matter the play call. He's fifth on the Browns with 288 total snaps thus far and is the only skill position player outside of quarterback Baker Mayfield to log over 280 snaps. His versatility in both the run and pass game has made him a mainstay in coach Kevin Stefanski's offense, and that's required him to embrace every detail of the playbook.

"I feel like I am fitting in pretty well here in terms of just understanding my role and accepting my responsibilities," he said. "At first, there was a lot of information I had to review with new terminology. It just forced me to really become a student of the offense and understand the language within the offense. Since I have had such a better grasp of it now, it allows me to play in different spots and do some different things."

Hooper has recorded 17 receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown, which came on a goal-line play in the Browns' wild, 49-38 Week 4 win over the Dallas Cowboys. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield has mostly targeted wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry when the Browns need big plays, but Hooper has provided Mayfield with a reliable security blanket for short, efficient throws that typically go for a quick first down.

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His receiving production might not look the same as other top tight ends around the league, but he carries the same level of importance in the Browns' schemes. Cleveland's coaches, however, don't need to see the stats to put a value on Hooper's significance to the Browns' early offensive success.

"The things that we ask him to do are sometimes the dirty work," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "He accepts that. He's valuable, and we use him in a lot of different ways in protection and the pass game, and obviously run blocking. He's done a hell of a job."

That last category is what has made Hooper such a treasured acquisition. Cleveland has the top rushing offense in the league and is averaging 188 yards on the ground per game, and much of the credit has gone to RBs Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb, who has been sidelined since Week 4 with a knee injury.

The offensive line has received a heavy amount of praise for keeping the Browns' rushers at the top of league leaderboards, too, and Hooper deserves some of the kudos. He's been on the field almost as much as the Browns' starting offensive linemen. He's picked up key blocks and has been a reliable cog in opening holes for the running backs. 

So when Hooper sees the Browns at the top of the majority of the league's rushing categories, he knows that he's doing his job well.

"I take a tremendous amount of pride in it," Hooper said. "Being in an offense that has been doing very well thus far on the ground, if you want to run to the tight end side, you have to have some tight ends who can create a stretch, create movements and handle their one-on-one matchups. That is a responsibility I definitely do not take lightly because I understand if we want to run an outside zone scheme and pull plays behind me at the point of attack specifically, it has to work with me."

Hooper's assistance in the run game this year has met the vision Browns coaches saw in him when they signed him in March. Even though his talents as a receiver are well known, his efficiency in run blocking has meant that defenses won't receive any help in predicting the play call when Hooper is on the field. 

"It really allows us as an offense to be very dynamic," tight ends coach Drew Petzing said. "When you cannot dial in when a certain guy is in the game or in a certain position in terms of 'Hey, there are just going to try to throw him the ball,' or, 'He is just going to be the run blocking tight end,' it really creates some indecision in terms of how you defend that. I think he gives us that, and he is doing it at such a high level that I think you see that in our success in the run game and pass game."

Hooper's workload won't get any lighter as the Browns attempt to continue throttling opposing defenses with an unpredictable mix of big passing plays and steady pickups from their running backs.

But that's just what he wants. His variety of roles have kept him on the field for every play, and the numbers have proven that when he's in the game, good things can happen no matter the play call.

"I'm feeling good about it," he said. "You're trying to get that perfect effort, and if everyone has that perfect effort, the scoreboard tends to take care of itself."

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