INDIANAPOLIS — Baker Mayfield didn’t get his wish.
After a disappointing second season in which he struggled to find chemistry and rhythm with starting receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, the Browns quarterback hoped to spend a good part of the offseason working with the wideouts to develop timing and precision.
Instead, Landry isn’t expected to be available until August following hip surgery Feb. 4. Beckham underwent core muscle surgery in January but is expected to be ready for the offseason program that begins April 6. The question with him is if he’ll attend more than the couple of offseason practices he did a year ago.
New coach Kevin Stefanski isn’t panicking but realizes the challenge and wants to make sure the time on the sidelines is well-spent.
“Listen, injuries are part of the NFL and rehab is part of the NFL so those guys are going to do everything in their power to get back as quickly as they can, but I can promise you that with those two guys in particular, our medical staff will make sure they do it the right way,” Stefanski said Tuesday at the scouting combine. “It’s a challenge as you say, but I think it’s something that you have to deal with year in and year out and (I) have spoken to both of those guys about it and how they have to be very proactive about learning the system maybe when you’re not getting reps due to an injury.”
He said the pressure will be on the coaches to get Mayfield and the receivers on the same page when they have the opportunity.
“I think that’s our job as coaches to make sure when we have the guys available to us that we’re getting really good work,” Stefanski said. “The pass game is about precision and timing so that’s something we have to really harp on and make sure we give them a plan.”
The surgeries and recovery process have had Beckham and Landry inside team headquarters more than they would be in a typical offseason. It’s allowed Stefanski to begin a relationship. Stefanski’s also talked to Mayfield on multiple occasions and is eager to coach him.
“He didn’t have the year I think he wanted to have. It’s our job to get him in the building on April 6 and start laying the foundation for a productive year for him,” Stefanski said. “That’s an all-encompassing thing in the meeting room, on the practice field, and to see him have a good 2020.”
The AFC North is likely to get even more interesting, as the Bengals are expected to draft Heisman-winning LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1 pick. He’ll join MVP Lamar Jackson of the Ravens, two-time Super Bowl champ Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers and Mayfield.
“It’s always been in my opinion one of the most competitive divisions,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said. “To see the young influx of talent at the quarterback position. Baker Mayfield is a tremendous talent. Lamar, we feel really good about him. Joe Burrow’s one of the best quarterbacks we’ve seen in a long time. Ben is a Hall of Famer.
“It just makes our division really fun. Every game is a dogfight. No easy games in the AFC North. We respect those guys very much. We can’t wait to get started.”
The Ravens have won the last two division titles. The Browns are still looking for their first since the league was formed in 2002.
“It’s a great division. I think it’s got great players,” said Stefanski, who spent the last 14 years in the NFC North with the Vikings. “I think there’s some great coaches in this division, so we’re going to have our work cut out for us. That’s the fun part of this, the competitive part of this. You certainly mentioned those players and that’s where I’m excited to be part of that.”
A BIG FAN
Oklahoma inebacker Kenneth Murray, who was teammates with Mayfield, was asked for his best Mayfield story. He recalled an offseason seven-on-seven session in which Mayfield was watching because of an injured thumb.
“I just remember that day obviously he wasn’t participating, so the defense, we were really one up on them,” Murray said. “So we were winning and we were talking a lot of noise that day. And I just remember literally like as soon as we got up 4-1 on them, and then all of a sudden Bake just was like, all right, give me the ball.
“He goes in and scores like four touchdowns right off the bat. And I’m just like, bro, this dude is special. Bake, that’s my guy, love him to death, he’s a great teammate.”
The Browns haven’t been to the playoffs since 2002 and their last winning season was 2007. Maybe it’s time they had a director of high performance.
Shaun Huls is being hired for the newly created role after seven years with the same title with the Eagles, a league source confirmed to The Chronicle-Telegram.
He will work on strength and conditioning, sports science, nutrition and player wellness.
He previously coordinated the strength and conditioning and injury prevention programs for the Navy SEALs.