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Nick Mullens seeks 'smooth operation' as next man up at QB

Mullens’ meticulous preparation and experience has given his coaches strong belief he can succeed if needed Monday against Las Vegas

Nick Mullens has heard the same message in virtual team meetings from head coach Kevin Stefanski every day this week.

"If you're in this room, we believe in you."

The message is all that Mullens, the fourth-year QB, has needed to hear from his coach to feel calm and confident during a turbulent week in Berea.

Mullens is the next man up at quarterback after several Browns players have tested positive for COVID-19. QBs Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum have been among them, and while there's still a chance either could come off the list before Monday's game against the Raiders — which was re-scheduled from Saturday due to the high number of positive tests — Mullens feels as though he has all the poise necessary to lead the offense.

"(Stefanski's message) could not be more true this week," Mullens said Saturday on a Zoom call with local reporters. "I'll just take it one thing at a time, and whatever happens, just roll with it and accept that we're all here to do a job."

Check out exclusive photos from the practice fields at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus of the Browns preparing for their Week 15 game against the Las Vegas Raiders

Mullens' job all season has been to be ready on a moment's notice, and he's taken that role to heart ever since the Browns signed him to their practice squad in early September.

Cleveland coveted Mullens' experience, which included 19 games and 16 starts where he's thrown 4,405 passing yards, the second-most by any quarterback in NFL history in that span and trailing only Patrick Mahomes (5,100). He's also thrown 25 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. All of Mullens' NFL action has been with the 49ers, where he once received tutelage from Browns offensive assistant T.C. McCartney from 2017-2018.

Even though practice squad quarterbacks normally work on the scout team offense, Mullens has challenged himself to climb an extra rung on the preparation ladder should he be needed to start. From playbook familiarity to deepening his tape review of an opponent, Mullens hasn't grown complacent to the monotone, practice-only life that's the norm for most practice squad players.

"It's kind of like art," Mullens said. "How much more can I learn this week? How much more prepared can I be this week? I've kind of gone about it that way really since I've gotten here … We talked about smooth operation. That's the goal."

Mayfield and Keenum have helped Mullens tremendously along the way. The QB room has always been a tight-knit room with Mayfield at the helm, and Mullens has heard all of the same instructions and talking points as Mayfield each week. He feels he's gotten better and more familiar with the offense as a result.

Virtual meetings and unfortunate positive COVID-19 tests haven't changed that dynamic.

"We share ideas, we share concepts that we see that look good on tape, along with the help of (offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt)," Mullens said. "I really like our room. It's been great. Just a lot of good energy.

"I think that's the biggest thing. Whatever happens, we're going to stay optimistic, do our jobs and prepare to win."

That energy was exuded from everyone on the practice fields Saturday from Mullens' perspective. It's one of the things he's noticed most about the rocky week — an outside viewer with no knowledge of the news that's swirled around the Browns would think it's business as usual in Cleveland.

"The energy is off the charts," Mullens said. "I think that's the coolest thing about it."

A win Monday could bring even more energy to the Browns, and Mullens could be one of the top men in charge of helping them attain it.

He's been preparing for such a challenge all season. Now, it's arrived — and he doesn't need any more reminders from players or coaches about their belief in him to tackle it.

He's gotten that message in the team meetings all week.

"We're here because our coaches believe in us," he said, "so it's our job to go prove them right."

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