The clamoring for offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt to take over as play caller isn’t coming from Van Pelt.
As the offense sputtered and eventually became the reason the Browns (7-9) didn’t make the playoffs, the drumbeat grew louder for coach Kevin Stefanski to turn over the play calling to Van Pelt. Stefanski resisted, noting Van Pelt and other coaches were already heavily involved in the process.
With only the meaningless finale vs. the Bengals on Sunday remaining, the Browns rank 20th in the NFL in scoring (20.5 points per game), 18th in total offense (338.4), 26th in passing (196.8) and fourth in rushing (141.6).
“I work for Coach Kevin, and I am happy whichever role that would be,” Van Pelt said Thursday when asked about potentially calling plays in the finale. “I think Kevin feels most comfortable calling the plays, and I do not know if I would disagree with him if I were in his shoes, as well.
“We do a lot together. Hopefully, as usual, we all have voices in the play calling as it goes forward, but I do not feel like I need to call the game. I think Kevin does a great job, and I am very comfortable in the role that I am in now.”
Van Pelt filled in for Stefanski last year in the 48-37 playoff win in Pittsburgh and Dec. 20 in the 16-14 loss to the Raiders after Stefanski had tested positive for COVID-19. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was impressed by the job Van Pelt did against the Steelers but missed the Raiders game due to COVID.
Calling plays is important to many coordinators, as it signifies more responsibility and is a selling point when trying to get a job as a coordinator or head coach. But Van Pelt took the Browns job knowing he might not call plays and reiterated he remains content.
That’s noteworthy given a social media rumor this week that he had met with University of Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi. Van Pelt starred at quarterback for the Panthers, and coordinator Mark Whipple, a former Browns quarterbacks coach, recently resigned.
Van Pelt said there was no truth to the rumor.
“Not at all actually,” he said. “My phone started to ring around that same time, and I have no idea where that had come from. I have not spoken to anybody at the University of Pittsburgh.
“I am very happy they had a heckuva season as a fan. I followed and watched, but definitely have not been contacted by anybody from there.”
With Stefanski and Van Pelt set to return for a third season, the question is whether they’ll be joined again by Mayfield. His $18.86 million salary for 2022 is guaranteed, but that doesn’t mean general manager Andrew Berry won’t look for an upgrade.
Van Pelt disputed a report of tension between Mayfield and Stefanski.
“I have seen zero of that,” Van Pelt said. “Kevin is in our meetings every day. I know the line of communication is wide open between those two guys. I know they have met weekly on Tuesdays to make sure everything was good. I do not feel that at all.”
Van Pelt serves as the quarterbacks coach and works closely with Mayfield, who won’t play Sunday and is scheduled to have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left, non-throwing shoulder Jan. 19 in Los Angeles.
Veteran Case Keenum will start vs. the Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Mayfield’s labrum tore Week 2 and a bone in the shoulder fractured Week 6, yet he missed only one game because of the shoulder.
“We felt that he was healthy enough and gave us the best chance to win at that position,” Van Pelt said. “A big year for Baker as far as learning how to play through injury. Really proud of him. It is not uncommon in this league that guys play with things throughout the course of the year and get repaired in the offseason. It is kind of the way it goes.
“It was his non-throwing shoulder. He was harnessed up and protected to the point. The game that he was not healthy enough to play, we started Case. It is a medical question.”
The decision to keep playing Mayfield was widely questioned, but starting quarterbacks play in the NFL if they’re available, especially a former No. 1 overall pick who’s supposed to be the future of the franchise. Center JC Tretter credited Mayfield for pushing through to play.
“I give him a ton of credit and appreciate how hard he fought to be out there with us each and every week,” Tretter said. “We knew he was going through a lot physically throughout the season. I am happy for him that he is going get fixed up, get feeling better and be able to come back ready to go next year and healthy again.”
Van Pelt acknowledged last week the harness — Mayfield changed to a bulkier, more restrictive one after Week 6 — “handcuffed” and “hindered” the throwing motion and accuracy. But inaccuracy wasn’t Mayfield’s only problem, as he ranks 22nd in yards (3,010), 28th in completion percentage (60.5), tied for 20th in touchdowns (17), tied for ninth-most interceptions (13) and 27th in passer rating (83.1).
Concerns persist about his ability to read coverages, see the field and make quality decisions. An example from the loss to the Steelers on Monday night was a third-and-2 from the Steelers 39-yard line in the second quarter in which receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones was open in Mayfield’s line of vision but he held the ball and took a sack.
“That was a bad play for him, and he would be the first to admit it,” Van Pelt said. “A lot of things played into performance as this year went on. That will be something that we take a look at hard in our self-scout and see where we are.
“Statistically, did not have the year he had last year. Was not the same healthy person he was last year, either, so all of that is taken into consideration.”
Van Pelt believes Mayfield is capable of improving as a decision-maker.
“Absolutely. I think the third year in the system where you have complete, full understanding of everything, I think that ball would come out,” Van Pelt said, referring to next season. “The more you are in it, the more understanding you have for the scheme and obviously the more comfortable and better you will be within it.”