When Baker Mayfield was formulating his approach to his second full offseason in the NFL, he had already planned to go back to the basics.
His sophomore season with the Browns did not go as he hoped. It featured 22 touchdowns, 21 interceptions, six wins and no playoff games. Mayfield needed to restart with a new coach, learn a new playbook and take a different approach as he began his preparation for a season that could prove pivotal in his career trajectory.
For Mayfield, there's no more discussion about expectations or high goals. They're still there, obviously, but Mayfield isn't allowing them to pressure how he tackles an offseason that's been warped and molded to address safety precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I think there's been a lot of learning throughout this process," Mayfield said Wednesday in a video call with local reporters. "I think everybody who has been interviewed on our team has hit the nail on the head over and over about this is time to work. It is time to do our thing, instead of talking about it. It is moving in silence, which is fine with me. That is how I used to do it before getting on a bigger stage, so I'm happy to get back to those roots."
No one will say the pandemic has been beneficial to their offseason, which has been composed of countless video calls and virtual workouts between coaches and players rather than standard on-field practices. If it were a normal offseason, the Browns would be in the thick of OTAs and taking their first reps with a new playbook from coach Kevin Stefanski.
Instead, players are forced to go back to basics: study the playbook, work out alone and watch tape, among other activities.
Mayfield is OK with it because, well, that was already going to be his offseason approach.
"I think this has kind of made everybody go back to the sheer fundamentals," Mayfield said. "You can't do complex drills. Everybody might not have the same equipment. But we can teach the very basic fundamentals of what this new coaching staff wants to do and go from there."
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Mayfield hasn't been completely alone in his offseason work. Two weeks ago, Mayfield participated in workouts with some of the Browns' offensive players — which included tight ends David Njoku and Austin Hooper and wide receivers Rashard Higgins and Damion Ratley — whom he invited to his native Austin, Texas.
Two of Mayfield's top receivers couldn't attend, though. Wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry both underwent offseason surgery for injuries that nagged them for the near-entirety of last season, and they've spent the bulk of the offseason completing rehabilitation so they can be available in time for the regular season.
Their injuries were one reason why the offensive production didn't quite reach a level the Browns had envisioned last season. Landry, who earned a Pro Bowl appearance last season, recorded six touchdowns while Beckham hauled in four.
Mayfield believes the remote offseason will help them, too — both in their recovery and in separating themselves from the mental obstacles of a difficult season.
"(The injuries) definitely hindered them," Mayfield said," but the mental part of it and the frustrations that came from that, I think, affected it more. That's really frustrating if you're not able to physically do the things you're normally capable of doing. I feel that frustration, but they are taking advantage of this time to get better. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do this year."
Mayfield wants a fresh start for everyone when Browns players make their return to Cleveland. The unusual offseason has ensured that's precisely what will happen, and everyone has been forced to re-visited the smaller fundamentals of offseason preparation.
For Mayfield, though, that's been the plan all along.
"Getting back to that and having fun, enjoying the process, how to get to the winning, because that is the most enjoyable thing, looking back on it," Mayfield said. "I think it's taking us back to the basics. It might not be fun during the process, but then you look back, you are very grateful for that process."