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Alex Van Pelt says harness has “definitely hindered” Baker Mayfield, but Kevin Stefanski believes he’s adjusted to it

Baker Mayfield has fallen well short of expectations this season. He’s 0-for-5 with the chance to lead a go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter, ranks in the bottom third in the NFL in most key quarterback statistics and the Browns are 7-8 and in danger of not making the playoffs.

A series of injuries, none more significant than a torn labrum in his left, non-throwing shoulder suffered in Week 2, has adversely affected his performance. The organization must determine how much the injuries have been a factor in the regression following a strong second half of the 2020 season that included a playoff victory.

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While Mayfield has been open throughout the season about the severity of the injuries and the accompanying struggles, the coaches and organization largely downplayed the impact of the injuries on his performance. During the bye in early December, general manager Andrew Berry said Mayfield was “healthy enough to win games for us.”

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Coordinator Alex Van Pelt changed his tone Friday, attributing part of the struggles to the bulky harness Mayfield wears to protect the left shoulder.

“It definitely shows. It’s definitely handcuffed him a little bit with his ability to get that left side out of the way,” Van Pelt said. “Hopefully next year without the harness you’ll see Baker back to normal with his normal throwing mechanics.

“But it’s definitely something that’s hindered him, he’s fought through. Got a lot of respect for the fact that he’s battled through that, we know he’s injured.”

Coach Kevin Stefanski was asked later how the injury and harness will affect his evaluation of Mayfield’s season.

“I don’t want to characterize it as a footnote like you said, but it’s not something that I’m thinking a lot about,” he said. “I think it’s one of those things that he certainly worked through it, but we focus on how he looks in practice, how he looks in the games, and he’s done a nice job.”

Stefanski and Van Pelt have cited Mayfield’s practice performance multiple times when saying the harness wasn’t an excuse for inaccuracy in games. Mayfield ranks 27th in completion percentage (62.4), 24th in yards (2,825) and touchdowns (15) and 25th in passer rating (86.1). The numbers dip to 56.1 percent, seven touchdowns, eight interceptions and a 66.8 rating in his last five games.

The labrum tore Week 2 against the Texans when he tried to make a tackle after an interception. A fracture in the left shoulder occurred four weeks later when he landed awkwardly on a strip-sack by Arizona’s J.J. Watt.

After missing the next game, Mayfield switched to a larger harness he still wears. He’s expected to have surgery to fix the labrum after the season, although he’s yet to confirm he made a decision.

Stefanski witnessed an adjustment period but believes Mayfield got used to the harness.

“You can ask Baker, I would rely on what he says, but just watching him at practice yesterday and watching him at practice throughout this season and making good decisions, throwing the ball with accuracy, so I see that,” Stefanski said.

Mayfield, whose lower-body injuries healed during the bye week and 10 days in the COVID-19 protocols, said Thursday the biggest issue is finishing toward the target with the harness restricting movement.

“Obviously, like if you are teaching a 5-year-old how to throw, you finish towards your target momentum-wise, (otherwise) you will be falling off of your back foot and the ball will sail on you,” he said. “It is just little things like that. It is just something that I have had to get used to.

“There is not much I can do to overcome the harness and the restrictions because that is protecting me.”

Van Pelt said they’ve made adjustments to Mayfield’s mechanics to accommodate the harness and he’s finding a way to be “functional” in it.

“You can just see in his mechanics that left side gets stuck in there at times, and it is a struggle for him at times,” Van Pelt said. “You try to downplay it as much as possible. He does still make really good throws with it on. But obviously to not have it on would be beneficial.”

Mayfield’s been under fire much of the season for inconsistent play and failure to win games in the fourth quarter. Both were problems again Saturday in the 24-22 loss at Green Bay. Mayfield threw four interceptions, including one with a chance to win in the final minute.

Receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones appeared to be interfered with on the first and last interceptions, but the officials didn’t throw a flag either time.

“It’s tough any time you throw four,” Van Pelt said. “You throw three, you throw one in the game you feel terrible as a quarterback. The fact that there was potential P.I. on those, yes, you can asterisk it a little bit. But at the same time we can’t turn the ball over. He knows that as well as anybody.

“The thing you’ve got to do, shooters shoot. You’ve got to keep shooting. His confidence won’t waver at all. He’s got to trust his decision-making and not let that shake you up as a quarterback.”

Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in 2018, is under contract through 2022 after the Browns picked up the $18.9 million fifth-year option on his rookie deal in April. Serious talks on an extension haven’t happened, and depending on how the season ends, the team will have decisions to make at quarterback.

It can bring back Mayfield as the unquestioned starter, add competition or replace him. A lot depends on the shoulder and how Berry, Stefanski and Van Pelt view its impact.

 

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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