With OTAs in full swing for the Cleveland Browns, there are a number of players trying to make a good impression in front of the coaching staff, many of which include the rookies who were taken in the 2018 NFL Draft. Although it might have been obvious to some that No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield would be the backup quarterback and No. 4 pick Denzel Ward would be one of the team’s starting cornerbacks once the season kicks off this upcoming fall, the fact that they have both been promoted to second-team offense and first-team defense, respectively, shows how much work the two have put in already.
To say that Ward has made an impression already would be an understatement. He’s not only earned it, but he’s stepped up at a position where the Browns have been looking for a playmaker. Last week, free agent Terrance Mitchell was the starting cornerback alongside T.J. Carrie, but Ward has already made quite a statement and taken over the position.
“Ward being out there is because he is earning it. He is working at it. He is doing good things. He plays a position that we think we have been needing a gut to step up,” head coach Hue Jackson explained after Tuesday’s OTAs. “We see things of him improving each and every day and doing the things that we are asking. He needs to continue to do that to continue to be out there, but we know that he is very talented. That is why we drafted him. He has displayed that since he has been here.”
With receivers such as Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry on the other side of the ball, the former Ohio State Buckeye has gotten plenty of practice against two of the best receivers in the NFL. The more he practices against players like that, the more he will improve. Ward has a number of both strengths and weaknesses, as WFNY’s Joe Gilbert has already pointed out, but he continues to craft his game on a daily basis. Having to work against those receivers will only accelerate the process and make him a better player. Same goes for those guys as well. They just have to continue to push each other and get better.
In terms of Mayfield, although he isn’t expected to be the starting quarterback come Week 1, the gunslinger seems to be getting the same amount of reps as he did previously, but Jackson wants him throwing the ball and gain chemistry with a number of different wideouts while continue to improve under center and get a better feel for the NFL game.
“I just mixed it up. There is nothing behind that. I just think that I want to keep tinkering with that a little bit. I made the decision this week with the staff to make him second and get some reps there. That is just going to go as we go. There is nothing to it,” Jackson said. “Nobody should read anything into it. It is an opportunity to go out there a little sooner than he has. That is all.
“Honestly, he was getting the same. That did not change. That part did not change, the fact that if he is third or second. He is still getting the same amount of reps. It is just now you are throwing to a different group of receivers because I think that he has to have that chemistry with all of those guys. It was good for him to do that. He did some good things today.”
Unlike in previous years, the Browns have a quarterback they can count on in Tyrod Taylor, allowing the coaching staff to slowly develop Mayfield into the franchise quarterback that they eventually want him to become. It gives both the team and the coaching staff a much easier time with Taylor leading the way. With that said, the rookie is still going to compete with the veteran while learning from him as well.
“Absolutely. We have a starting quarterback. Tyrod still has to get those reps. Those reps are really important. He is the starter. He goes with the ones all of the time,” the head coach said of his quarterback. “With Baker, we are bringing him along. We are teaching him the National Football League. He has done an outstanding job working hard every day and making the most of his reps, but it is comforting for our team that we do have a starting quarterback.”
Although he has more time to develop and learn the tips and tricks of being a quarterback in the NFL, Mayfield still seems to be working his butt off and trying to learn as much as possible as quick as he can. He not only has done everything the coaching staff has asked of him, but he continues to work on his craft, especially his most glaring weaknesses, including everything that goes into getting a snap under center rather than just in the shotgun. As Gilbert has pointed out, Mayfield has a number of strengths and weaknesses as a first-year quarterback in the NFL.
“I think he is right on schedule. I think that he is doing good. The game is not too big for him. He demonstrates the ability to throw the ball and make decisions with the ball in his hands and learning our system,” Jackson said of his rookie quarterback. “I think he is on schedule, but is he a finished product? No, he is not supposed to be, neither. He has done everything we have asked him to do. There is still a lot of work to do, a lot of work ahead of him. I think that he gets that and I think that he is excited about that.”
In the final week of OTAs, a number of rookies have made an impression on both the coaching staff and veterans already, but Mayfield and Ward seem to be taking advantage of every second they get to learn from the older guys (and coaches) and develop their craft. Whether it’s building on their strengths or continuing to work on their weaknesses, the two rookies seem to be setting a great example for the rest of the bunch, and that’s all you can ask of your two top picks.
“For Baker, it has been playing under center, because that is something that he has not done. I think as you have seen, we have not had any balls on the ground. There is no wood to knock on. He has done a good job in that way. For Ward, for me just watching him, it is just all of the things we do and the different types of receivers that changes from play to play and who he has to go up against, learning a complicated system that we have on defense. I think that he has handled that pretty well.”