Mayfield’s big test
Hue Jackson has made it abundantly clear that Tyrod Taylor is his starting quarterback.
He all but said Taylor was the quarterback the Browns thought they traded for shortly before the college draft and proved it with his performance in the recently concluded minicamp.
But the Browns’ head coach has a history, at least in his brief tenure in Cleveland, of saying one thing and winding up doing something entirely different.
All you have to do is look back at how he waffled a year ago when he welcomed four quarterbacks to training camp – returnees Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan, veteran Brock Osweiler and rookie draftee DeShone Kizer.
Let’s forget for the moment that none of those quarterbacks are on this season’s roster. At one time or another during the 2017 exhibition season, all but Hogan were given consideration to be No. 1. It started with Kessler, switched to Osweiler and eventually morphed into Kizer, all in a month’s time.
Jackson, the so-called quarterbacks whisperer, unfortunately and unwisely tapped Kizer to lead the team to its embarrassing 0-16 season after Osweiler was cut and Kessler and Hogan didn’t come even close to winning the job.
That is why Taylor is now in Cleveland. His steady, heady and ultra conservative approach to quarterbacking is what the Browns need after winning only once in the last 32 games. At least that is what fans are being led to believe.
The way Jackson states it, it is Taylor’s job to lose. But since No 1 overall draft pick Baker Mayfield is the only legitimate challenger, the likelihood of that happening falls somewhere between “no way” and “of course there’s a chance.”
As much as it’s Taylor’s job to lose, it is also Mayfield’s job to win. And that will be the prevailing main story, especially with the Hard Knocks crew lurking, when training camp begins in earnest late next month in Berea.
Right now, Mayfield is just out of the National Football League womb. After OTA and minicamp, he is that much smarter, but far, far from being even close to being ready. At this point, that notion is pie in the sky.
Fans have been led to believe that one of the main reasons Mayfield wad the top choice was how tough he was, how competitive he was, how dogged he was, traits the front office believes would eventually translate into winning.
How he comports himself in the next six weeks will go a long way in determining how serious he is about challenging Taylor. If he is the fighter, the competitor, fans can expect a different Mayfield in training camp.
He appears to have gotten the physical part down – operating under center for the first time – and now it’s the mental aspect of the game that needs to be addressed: Calling plays in the huddle, memorizing the playbook, identifying defenses, recognizing weaknesses in the opposition’s defense.
Mayfield’s learning curve in college was quick enough that he twice went from walk-on to starter. The question now is can he make that same leap in transitioning to the much tougher and challenging professional game?
It would be a mistake if Taylor enters the training camp phase of the season confidently assuming he will have the huddle when the Browns open the 2018 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
A lot will depend on how quickly Mayfield grasps Todd Haley’s offense to the point where he will make Jackson take notice. It would be reminiscent of what Russell Wilson did in Seattle six years ago when he beat out Matt Flynn for the starting job.
The big difference now is whether Jackson and Haley give Mayfield a genuine opportunity to duplicate Wilson’s feat and supplant Taylor. That is what remains to be seen.