It doesn’t matter what the “national hype” might be around Baker Mayfield — the Cleveland Browns are sticking with Tyrod Taylor as their starting quarterback for 2018.
Mayfield made his NFL preseason debut Thursday against the New York Giants and went 11-for-20 for 212 yards and two touchdowns, including a couple of plays that reminded some observers of the things the quarterback did during his time at Oklahoma.
With Mayfield showing that he wasn’t rattled on the NFL stage, many started to wonder if the Browns might change their initial plan to go with Taylor this season while Mayfield watched and learned from the veteran.
“Nothing’s changed,” Browns head coach Hue Jackson said. “Tyrod Taylor is our starter. Baker Mayfield is a young, talented player that has a bright, bright future.”
New Browns quarterback coach Ken Zampese echoed the third-year head coach.
“He’s our guy and that’s what it is,” Zampese said of Taylor. “To keep bringing it up is the only reason why anybody would put a cloud in anybody’s head. So let’s get on with him being the guy and let’s get on to playing and winning and doing what we are supposed to do and what we are here for.”
It isn’t as though Taylor was terrible Thursday, either. On the contrary.
Taylor was nearly perfect. The 29-year-old completed all five of his passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. The score, a 36-yarder to tight end David Njoku, capped off a drive in which the Browns went no-huddle and Taylor was 3-for-3 for 63 yards. “He looked comfortable, he had command and the guys responded,” Zampese said. “You can see what happens in an up-tempo situation. You get a chance to catch some guys off guard. It puts it in our favor and we took advantage of it.”
For anyone who thought the Browns brought Taylor in as just a place holder for Mayfield, Zampese was having none of it.
“I’m not going to talk about keeping the seat warm,” Zampese said. “That’s not how we look at it at all.”
But the temptation has to be there for the Browns, who went 0-16 a season ago, to look at starting the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, right?
Not so fast.
“None of that really matters,” Zampese said. “Tyrod just needs to be here and do what he is doing and win games. Everything takes care of itself. Win, handle your job and everything will be just fine.”
After all, Taylor was a two-time Pro Bowl invitee in three seasons as the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills before being traded to the Browns for a third-round pick this past March. Heading into his eighth season, the veteran has been nothing short of impressive in his short time with Cleveland.
“I think he is going to be very successful for us this year, which is the only year that matters,” Zampese said. “I like where he’s at, I like where he’s going. I love his leadership and the way he is aggressively going about being the leader of this team.”
In his first act as the team leader, Taylor paid for a number of offensive players to join him in California for offseason workouts so they could build chemistry.
“I know the offseason, especially before training camp is a time you can get around your family before you get back to the grind,” Taylor said. “But I thought it was necessary for us to get together, especially with a new team and a new scheme.”
What was most eye-opening to the coaching staff was that Taylor planned the trip without their help or encouragement.
“He did it without me mentioning it to him,” Zampese said. “And I did one time and he had already had the plans all set. At that point, I kind of knew what we had and that put a big smile on my face.”
Taylor isn’t the first Pro Bowl quarterback with whom Zampese has worked. As the quarterbacks coach for the Cincinnati Bengals from 2003-15 and then as the offensive coordinator in 2016-17, the son of longtime NFL assitant Ernie Zampese worked with both Carson Palmer (two Pro Bowls with the Bengals) and Andy Dalton (three).
After helping those two players to some of the best passing seasons in Bengals history, Zampese believes the best is still yet to come for Taylor.
“I think it’s the tip of the iceberg for Tyrod,” Zampese said. “I think he is an untapped player in the league. He has done some really nice things so far in the league and I think it’s only going to get better.”
It isn’t just the play on the field that has impressed Zampese about Taylor, either. It’s the little things like how the quarterback acts when he is at the team facility, how he takes care of his body, his study habits, and the way he leads the team on and off the field.
“Tyrod sets the bar for consistency, there is no doubt about it,” Zampese said. “There is no man more consistent than him when he gets here. The bar is set very high. It’s fantastic.”
As for Mayfield, the quarterbacks coach liked what he saw in the first preseason game but was quick to temper expectations.
“He’s had 22 preseason NFL snaps,” Zampese said. “He has a long way to go and we are encouraged with where he is at right now.”
So for now, the plan is what the plan has always been: Tyrod Taylor is the starting quarterback in 2018 and Baker Mayfield is the backup.
“We have our plan, we’re sticking to it,” Zampese said. “When it changes, we will all know.”
And the Browns seem to be sticking to that plan no matter the hype.