BEREA — Baker Mayfield could line up the excuses.
No offseason practices to learn a new offensive system.
No preseason games to hone his accuracy and work on timing with the receivers.
A third coach in his third season — only the sixth time that’s happened to a quarterback drafted in the first round, according to NFL Network.
But as Mayfield gets ready to open a pivotal season in his career Sunday at defending AFC North champion Baltimore, he’s not looking for built-in explanations if he plays poorly.
“That could be an excuse if you wanted to use it, but we are not doing that,” he said Wednesday when asked about a possible slow start given a new coach, new system and weird offseason. “We know what we have to do. We have installed everything. We are putting together a good game plan, and we will have that ready to roll. Everybody just has to go out there and execute it.
“It is not about what’s happened and the adversity. It is about how you can handle those things. That is just our motto.”
Mayfield didn’t know the three years, three coaches (Hue Jackson, Freddie Kitchens, Kevin Stefanski) stat but objected to the notion that’s defined his up-and-down career through two years.
“First of all, it is a wild stat,” he said. “It could be an excuse if you use it, but that is not what I am doing here. Singular focus on this year and what we can do and that is the ultimate goal, so move forward.”
He’s been listening to Stefanski, who’s drawn praise for how he navigated the unique offseason that included Zoom calls instead of in-person meetings, masks in the building and on the practice field and not having a full-team practice until Aug. 14.
“We’re not interested in excuses. I don’t think anybody wants to hear them,” Stefanski said. “We’re so focused on 2020, I think Baker speaks to that, as well.”
The spotlight on Mayfield is intense. Not only was he the Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick, his brash personality — he was “feeling dangerous” and isn’t a “cookie-cutter” quarterback — draws eyes and ears.
He followed a stellar year that included a rookie-record 27 touchdown passes in 14 games with a step back last season that nearly matched the letdown experienced by the entire organization. The Browns went 6-10, didn’t come close to the Super Bowl expectations and Mayfield stumbled to 31st in the league in completion percentage (59.4), interceptions (21) and passer rating (78.8).
He’s again surrounded by playmakers, including Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper, who was signed in free agency. Mayfield will be eligible for a contract extension after the season. New general manager Andrew Berry and Stefanski will drive that decision, and neither was tied to Mayfield before this year.
“Yeah, out to prove, to be much better than what I have shown in the two years prior,” he said.
“Baker’s always been a competitor, so that’s always come out of him,” center JC Tretter said. “He looks great, been super dialed in.”
A red flag in Mayfield’s performance last year was the decline in accuracy. That was considered one of his greatest strengths at Oklahoma, where he completed more than 70 percent his final two years. After a 63.8 completion percentage as a rookie, he dipped to 59.4 last year.
“Completing passes is very important to getting the ball in the playmakers’ hands,” Mayfield said.
The aim remained off during training camp as he tried to find a comfort level with Stefanski’s playbook and footwork changes demanded by new coordinator Alex Van Pelt.
“There is always room for improvement,” Mayfield said. “I have not gone perfect in a game yet so there is always room for improvement.
“It is not all new at a certain point once you rep it. Just go out there and execute it. It is an offense where there is a lot of accountability. You have to be where you are supposed to be and be there on time. The same goes for my reads. Listen to the footwork, go through the reads, trust that and trust that they are going to call plays to get the ball into people’s hands.”
Mayfield said his excitement level for Sunday has “nothing to do” with making amends for last year. And he doesn’t carry over confidence from the 40-25 Week 4 win in Baltimore, when he threw for 342 yards and Nick Chubb rushed for 165 and three touchdowns.
Mayfield’s just looking forward to playing a game again. And leading the franchise’s turnaround along with defensive end Myles Garrett, who was the No. 1 pick in 2017.
“I truly believe that everything happens for a reason,” Mayfield said. “Myles and I being brought here the two years in a row just to be culture changers. To turn this thing around, it is not a quick process, but we both felt that we can do more and that we are definitely capable of it.
“It is not a burden. That is something that we are blessed with is to be able to be in a position to help turn this thing around. We took it upon ourselves to take responsibility, but we know it is not all on us. We have to lead and we have to show guys by example, but we have great guys around us that we can count on.”
Running backs Chubb and Kareem Hunt are two of the most important, and they are reassured by Mayfield’s attitude and ability.
“Him being the quarterback, there’s a lot more on his plate,” Chubb said. “I think he’s handled it well. In every situation he’s always composed and he’s ready.
“We believe in him, we trust him, we know he’s going to make the right decision for us. He always has.”
“I expect Baker to come out and get the ball in the playmakers’ hands,” Hunt said. “Just be more comfortable out there and have a big year. He’s looked great all camp and he’s been doing a great job of being a leader of the offense.”