BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Baker Mayfield dragged more than a Heisman Trophy with him into the NFL. There was other baggage, including a well-earned reputation as being cocky, fiery, brash and over-the-top.
He hasn’t changed much.
And that’s what the Browns love about their rookie starting quarterback, who didn’t need long to firmly plant his own flag in Cleveland.
“He walk it,” receiver Jarvis Landry said, “like he talk it.”
As Mayfield prepares to make his first pro start in a few days at Oakland, his confidence isn’t the only thing impressing teammates eager to see if the No. 1 overall pick can build upon his sensational debut last week against the New York Jets — a stunning performance that prompted coach Hue Jackson to switch QBs.
While he is on the verge of his first visit to play in front of the Raiders’ notoriously rowdy “Black Hole”, Mayfield is showing no fear or signs of complacency.
The 23-year-old did not speak to reporters on Wednesday and the only time he was seen in Cleveland’s locker room was to grab the playbook out of his locker.
“He’s been real focused,” said left guard Joel Bitonio, one of the team’s captains. “He’s taken the lead in a few meetings just because that’s what the starting quarterback does.”
Sooner than the Browns or anyone expected, Mayfield has risen on the depth chart and vaulted from high-profile backup and future QB to the present one.
And while it may have happened quickly, Mayfield has shown since the moment the Browns (1-1-1) selected him he’d be prepared for this moment.
He’s worked hard, shown humility and remained supportive of Tyrod Taylor, who remains in protocol with a concussion that hastened his benching.
Before he was drafted, Mayfield drew comparisons to Johnny Manziel, another Heisman winner who busted for the Browns. The Mayfield-Manziel similarities though, seem to start and stop at their height.
“You hear people say, ‘Oh, he’s Johnny or he’s this or he’s that,’ but since I’ve known him he’s been a great guy,” Bitonio said. “He’s been in the building. He’s a confident guy. I think people see that as a little bit of cockiness, but he’s just confident in what he does and he understands you put in the work and he’s ready to compete and he’s ready to play.
“And that’s all you want in a quarterback.”
But with Mayfield, there’s a little more.
It wasn’t long after replacing Taylor during Thursday’s nationally televised game when Mayfield started talking trash to the Jets defensive linemen. That may have surprised a few of his new teammates, but it’s nothing new for Mayfield, whose on-the-field antics in college didn’t stop at choice words.
Mayfield loved to antagonize opponents, whether it was telling Kansas’ fans to “stick to basketball” or celebrating a victory at Ohio State by spiking an Oklahoma flag into the turf.
“I followed all that stuff, and again, it’s that ‘Walk it, Talk it,’” Landry said. “He definitely has that attitude and charisma, and that is contagious.”
It remains to be seen how much of Mayfield’s personality rubs off on his teammates. But Raiders coach Jon Gruden believes a quarterback’s nature can mean as much as arm strength or mobility.
“Those are the intangibles that you look for that are hard to find,” Gruden said on a conference call. “Do they like the pressure? Do they like the big moment? Some guys come alive, some guys don’t. Some guys can bring out the best in their teammates. Some guys struggle to do that.
“But Mayfield has the magic about him. He has the charisma about him that really allows everybody on that team, defensively included to play at a higher level. They know if we can get the ball back to this kid, something good’s going to happen.”
Gruden grew up in Ohio rooting for the Browns, and he’s well aware of the team’s two-decades-old search to find a quarterback.
With Mayfield, the hunt may be over.
“What they have not had is a front-line starter that really can make all of the plays,” Gruden said.
“I think Mayfield, if you draw a line under that name, he is the man. He is the story that I think right now is going to become bigger and bigger in Cleveland this year.”
Notes: DE Emmanuel Ogbah (ankle) returned to practice and is expected to play after missing the past two games. … Sunday’s game will be a homecoming of sorts for Jackson, who spent one season as Oakland’s coach. He’ll also be reunited with Gruden as they spent a season coaching together at Pacific. “He taught me football,” Jackson said. “We used to argue every day. I was a wishbone quarterback at the time. I’ve always given Jon credit for where I am today. He helped mold me and shape me into the coach I am a little bit.”