With first-team reps, Baker Mayfield sends own confidence soaring

BEREA, Ohio -- It was only Wednesday and already offensive lineman Joel Bitonio had noticed differences -- some subtle, some not so subtle -- in Baker Mayfield.

“He’s taken the lead in a few meetings already," Bitonio said, "because that is what the starting quarterback does.”

For Mayfield, it’s all part of the process as he goes through a series of firsts while he prepares for his first NFL start.

For the first time, Mayfield will get all the practice reps with the starters. Unlike a week ago, when Mayfield took over during the Sept. 20 game after Tyrod Taylor was sidelined with a concussion, this week he is the Cleveland Browns' unchallenged leader -- which changes his role, routine and responsibilities.

“It just comes with the position,” Mayfield said, taking it on like an old jacket.

During the first three games of this season, Mayfield was not starting for the first time since he sat out the 2014 season after transferring from Texas Tech to Oklahoma. As the Browns backup, Mayfield made a conscious decision to take a step back. He respected Taylor, and he recognized that no team can have a backup being more vocal than the starter.

“It is harder to pull back when it is in my nature,” Mayfield said. “That is just who I am to be vocal, to express my feelings, my emotions, and to lead with passion. I am not going to be fake.”

Prior to Monday, Mayfield had not worked with the starters. Taylor got all the practice reps; Mayfield worked with the scout team and got extra work with the backups after practice.

“It is nice to get reps and to slowly build that timing and chemistry,” Mayfield said. “To be able to do that, you start to get into a rhythm. I am happy with how I played without any reps. Right now, I have very, very high expectations for myself having a full week of practice of being able to get those reps with the offense.”

Mayfield proved in the preseason he had a good grasp of the offense and could take a snap under center. He read defenses well, and when he moved in the pocket, he tried to find a receiver and kept his eyes downfield. The next step was doing it in a game with starters against starters, which he did extremely well in the win over the New York Jets.

He now hopes to learn more about his teammates.

“I think it’s big for him,” Bitonio said. “I think we’re a little bit more comfortable with him in the huddle, [with] his cadence, the way he kind of interacts out there. I think for him, the mental, ‘Hey, I know a little bit more what I’m doing this week,’ is going to be big for him.”

It’s just as important for his teammates to learn more about the new starting quarterback. There are subtleties and nuances in every player’s approach; knowing teammates well can sometimes make a difference in a play’s success.

“Getting the opportunity for all of us to be catching balls from him [is important],” receiver Jarvis Landry said. “Just hearing him in the huddle, hearing his voice; obviously on the road, it’s going to be loud. That’s going to be a big thing, communication, for us.”

Landry specifically mentioned learning to catch Mayfield’s passes, which arrive with considerable zip.

“It definitely is something I’m still adjusting to,” Landry said. “I try to catch as many balls [as possible] from him every day. Just trying to get that feel for it. But it’s definitely an adjustment.”

Jets safety Jamal Adams actually told WFAN that New York did not prepare for Mayfield, that the short week of practice meant they did not have that chance. At the same time, Adams said Mayfield's play was “phenomenal.”

“He’s a tough guy to game plan for regardless,” Landry said, ”But we ain’t trying to make it easy for them. So we don’t care. He came in, he stepped up, he did what he had to do.”

The Oakland Raiders have the week to prepare for Mayfield, and the Browns are aware that the Raiders will try to confuse him with different looks, coverages and blitzes. But they also realize Mayfield has a week to prepare for the Raiders, who host the Browns on Sunday.

“They can game plan for me,” Mayfield said. “But we have other skill guys. We have guys that are doing their jobs very well right now. Like I said, my job is to get the ball in their hands. I’m not gonna be the one to run around and create all the plays.

“I’m just going to do my job and let them do the work.”