Austin Hooper always believes his chemistry with quarterback Baker Mayfield is capable of climbing to a new level.
Hooper and Mayfield made it no secret last season that they had already forged a close bond in their first season together in Cleveland. Hooper, now entering his sixth NFL season at tight end, ranked second on the Browns with 46 receptions and third with 435 yards and five touchdowns, including a touchdown reception in the Browns' Wild Card playoff win over the Steelers.
When Mayfield needed a first down or go-to target in the red zone, Hooper was there. But Hooper isn't taking anything for granted about having a second season with Mayfield in 2021.
"It's like any relationship — you've just got to keep working on it and keep understanding each other," Hooper said in an interview on the Jim Rome Show last week. "Baker, being the guy who's my age and has been at similar points in our lives, it's been awesome. He's a young, hungry guy who wants to work, and it's been awesome and I'm really grateful."
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Hooper was one of several Browns players who traveled to Austin, Texas, before mandatory minicamp last week to work out with Mayfield in his hometown and take the first steps toward reestablishing the chemistry that helped propel the offense to the playoffs in 2020. When the Browns returned to Berea for three minicamp practices last week, Hooper, unsurprisingly, was among the top targeted receivers from Mayfield throughout team drills and seven-on-seven reps.
Those three practices alone provided the Browns an opportunity to get more on-field work than what they could accomplish all of last offseason. Hooper believes those practices — and the simple fact that players could meet coaches in person — could give the Browns an even faster start to the season compared to 2020.
"With no offseason and everything that led up to training camp, (head coach Kevin) Stefanski definitely had to keep it pretty vanilla until about halfway through the year when we really understood (the schemes)," Hooper said. "After having the full year where we laid it all out there, this is where we can have some more fun with it and add some wrinkles now that we've built a good foundation together."
The foundation for the offense couldn't be much stronger, and that's because of the continuity among the entire staff. From the players to coaches, nearly everyone who was a part of the offense last season is returning for 2021.
That should make life easier for Mayfield. Hooper saw first-hand in Atlanta just how big of an impact continuity can bring to an offense — his production with the Falcons improved every year as the offense continued to grow under head coach Dan Quinn — and he expects a similar trend to happen with Mayfield and the offense under Stefanski.
"It's been fun to learn new stuff (under the same playbook)," he said, "and when you think you have it all figured out, it's like, 'No, no no, we have some more stuff to add. It's been a lot of fun."
The Browns expect their finished offensive product to be one of the best units in the league. Continuity and chemistry is arguably the biggest reason why, and Hooper won't allow one solid season with his quarterback stop him from trying to grow those tangibles even more.
"There's no complacency," Hooper said. "We feel like we can compete with any other football team in the league, and it's up to us to put the product on the field and compete our tails off."