The Browns’ summer break is still in full swing, but we’re back in the office and applying extra precautionary layers of sunscreen as we prepare for 2019 training camp. It’s going to be a zoo in Berea, and we’re ready to chronicle absolutely everything that happens.
As part of that preparation, we’re putting each position group under our finest microscope over the next two weeks. This roster is full of star power, sure, but it’s going to take all 53 -- and more -- for the Browns to accomplish their goals.
We’re starting under center -- where else? -- with a look at the quarterbacks, a position group that ideally won’t have an open competition for the starting spot for a long, long time.
What we know: Perhaps it’s been so long since that fateful, Week 3 night against the Jets, when Mayfield took hold of the Browns’ starting job and never looked back, that we’re not fully appreciating the significance of Cleveland returning a quarterback who won’t be competing for his starting job during training camp. It’s a big, big deal and one of the biggest reasons why the Browns find themselves in a position to truly believe they can win the AFC North. It all starts with the quarterback, and the Browns have a good one in Mayfield, who is coming off one of the best rookie seasons in team history. He set the NFL rookie record with 27 touchdown passes and his 3,725 passing yards were the sixth-most ever by a first-year player. More importantly, he was the catalyst for Cleveland’s 5-3 finish to the season, as he ran an offense that was one of the NFL’s best inside the red zone and, subjectively, one of the most exciting during the second half of the season. He did all of this without receiving a single snap with the starting offense during his first NFL training camp because veteran Tyrod Taylor entered the year as the starter. Mayfield, when presented with the opportunity, made it clear he’s got the “it” factor to lead an NFL franchise. Now, he’ll do so after his first full offseason as the unquestioned starter and leader of Cleveland’s offense.
What we don’t know: Mayfield flourished with Freddie Kitchens as his offensive coordinator for the final eight games of the 2018 season. He completed better than 68 percent of his passes for an average of 281.8 passing yards per game with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Stretch that over a full season, and those are Pro Bowl numbers. Though Kitchens is now the head coach, he’ll continue to call plays, but the overall look and feel promises to be a little different after a full offseason of molding and honing with new offensive coordinator Todd Monken. The offense spent the offseason program getting on the same page and hammering away at its identity, and that will continue throughout training camp. Perhaps more importantly, this Mayfield-led offense will have All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. added to the mix. The two worked together during minicamp and again earlier this month in Los Angeles, but developing the kind of chemistry Mayfield has with Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins will take some more time. Simply put, this version of the Browns offense will be a work in progress -- and that’s not a bad thing! -- until the games count for real in September. “The offseason is really about your reps and trying different stuff out. Does this work? Can I try this differently? You might not necessarily do something routinely, but you can try something out to see if it works,” Mayfield said in June. “If it feels better, if it looks better. That is the time period right now is just learning this offense more in depth of what Freddie wants to do and Coach Monken and learn under (quarterbacks) Coach (Ryan) Lindley, as well, and just grow in that.”
Check out photos of the Browns quarterback group
X-Factor: The Browns not only bring back their starter, but also a veteran in Stanton who was invaluable to the quarterbacks room as a whole. He was the third option last year and is poised to be the backup in 2019. The addition of Gilbert also shouldn’t be overlooked considering his recent success in the AAF and his close ties to Mayfield. Leading it all is Lindley, who joined the team midway through last season and will serve as a full-time position coach for the first time in the NFL. There have been changes across the board on offense, but there have also been key retentions as well. That’s exactly what’s happened in Cleveland’s quarterbacks room, and Lindley expects it to pay dividends. “We got a good group of guys in the offensive staff room that like to have a good time and know at the end of the day we're gonna get into arguments and we're gonna fuss and we gotta make sure we do the best we can to put these guys in a good position on the field,” Lindley said. “But at the end of the day, we have a lot of fun doing it, so it's a good group top to bottom, players and coaches."
The biggest number: 8 - In Cleveland’s five wins during the second half of 2018, Mayfield averaged completing at least one pass to eight different receivers. The Browns offense was at its best when Mayfield was getting all of his playmakers involved. He’ll look to do the same in 2019. “It is kind of pick your poison now,” Mayfield said in May. “We have some pretty good talent all around – tight ends, running backs, receivers and then going in with the same offensive line. We have a good team. Now, it is what are we going to do with it.”
Says it all: “You're the No. 1 pick and you had a great rookie season and any competitor wants to get better every year. So he's set those goals for himself. He's a driven individual. I don't think any of the expectations that are coming from outside faze him at all. I think a ton of that is internal. He's got such a drive to him and we all know him, he's got an edge, he's got a chip on his shoulder. None of that, to me, fazes him from external influences. I think everything that he wants to do, he has to drive himself to do from his personal experience and being a competitor." -- Lindley on Mayfield
How many were kept on the initial 53-man roster last year?: 3