Austin Hooper wasn't afraid to admit Saturday in Berea that he wasn't feeling like himself for a part of the 2020 season.
The reason? Appendicitis. He suffered the painful ailment and was inactive for Weeks 7-8 after his procedure, and Hooper revealed Saturday he never felt back to normal when he returned to the field.
"I felt like I was in a really good spot until my appendicitis," he said. "I felt like I was playing the best ball of my career. That kind of threw a monkey wrench in my flow of confidence. I'd be lying if I said I was fully confident in running across the middle again with stitches in my stomach."
Now, Hooper is back, confident and poised to improve on his production from his first year in Cleveland. He finished the year with four touchdowns and 435 receiving yards, his lowest output since his rookie year with the Atlanta Falcons, but still carried plenty of value to the offense as a reliable blocker in the run game.
The Browns believe Hooper will improve in all of those areas in 2020.
"We're going to grow his role," head coach Kevin Stefanski said Saturday. "He really battled in a lot of moments. I mentioned it last year, in a lot of big moments where we were running the ball, he was at the point of attack. He was making big blocks.
"I thought he just really understands now in Year 2 how we plan to use him. I do believe his role can grow."
Hooper has a few reasons to list why he's confident he'll be an even heavier producer in 2021.
First, the continuity. It's been a storyline for every offensive player, and it certainly applies to Hooper, too. He acknowledged the ease of settling into camp when all 11 guys are on the same page with verbiage and reads, and the offense appears to be well on track for a better start to 2021 than last season, when they managed just six points in their opening game against Baltimore.
"The biggest thing that I have seen in just the short amount of time in our fourth day is just the continuity," he said. "I don't know how many teams across the league have 11 guys coming back offensively. In our outside zone scheme, the ability to play next to someone and have communication without verbally tell the defense what we are doing, that is the biggest thing from a run game perspective in our outside zone scheme. It is always good when you have that continuity where you have a lot of time and live bullets, so to speak, with the guys next to you."
Check out photos from the fourth day of Browns Camp at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus
The biggest benefit of that continuity for Hooper, though, is the chance to grow his bond with Mayfield. Hooper has taken every opportunity to do it and visited Mayfield at multiple points and destinations over the offseason.
The duo's chemistry was already strong last season, but the offseason workouts will allow Mayfield to understand Hooper's speed and catch radius just a little bit better. Those fractional gains can be the difference between a big third-down catch or costly incompletion, and Hooper is eager to see what their offseason work will mean for their on-field production.
"I just want to spend more time with quarterbacks," he said. "That's something I've done my whole career. When you bank hundreds or thousands of reps with someone, that just gives them more comfortability. This offseason was awesome to be able to get those reps that we weren't able to get last offseason, to some degree."
And the final reason why Hooper thinks he can improve?
Well, his confidence is back. The offseason allowed Hooper to rest his body, re-focus his mind and ensure he could hit the field with the energy needed to be great.
Hooper feels as though he's back to himself, and that's great news for everyone on the Browns offense.
"You're as confident as your preparation is," he said. "If you prepare, that's where you get your confidence. That's how I've always felt about it."