BEREA — Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. are using their brains as much as their bodies to fast track their learning curve together, receivers coach Adam Henry said.
In the meeting rooms and on the practice field, “engaging conversations” take place between the two football savants that translate to chemistry on the field. They have only one month until the season opener against the Titans, but they’re using all the mental prowess they have to accelerate the process.
“Those are the things that bring it and mesh it together because (Beckham’s) thinking one thing and Baker’s thinking another,’’ said Henry, who coached Beckham at LSU and with the New York Giants. “Remember, when you’ve done something a long time at another place, now you’re coming somewhere else, it’s different. It’s like, ‘This is sunglasses but we call it something else but it’s still sunglasses.’ So it’s different. You’re learning a new language.”
What’s more, Beckham is adjusting to a new quarterback after spending five years with Eli Manning. The ball speed is different. The placement is different. Beckham and Mayfield are so immensely talented that as Beckham put it last week, “it’s going to be scary’’ when they get on the same page. But it will take some time for them to finish each other’s football sentences like the Patriots’ Tom Brady and Julian Edelman do.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal but it is a big deal, right?’’ Henry said of learning a new QB after five years with the same guy. “So it is a difference, and it is a big deal because he needs the ball. So in order to get the ball, he has to throw it to him, but he has to be on the same page with him.’’
Mayfield and Beckham have had no choice but to pool their cerebral resources to get up to speed and make the magic that everyone expects. At times, Beckham gets a veteran day of rest, and he sat out Monday’s practice with an illness. Reps in camp are limited, and the season of great expectations is bearing down upon them. What’s more, they must be ready for primetime early, with three nationally televised night games in the first weeks.
“It’s all about timing, precision and accuracy and spacing and distribution, and so it’s critical,’’ said Henry.
It’s one of the reasons Mayfield shows up in the receiver room every morning to help prep his targets for practice.
“The great thing about Baker is that he’s a great worker, he’s a great communicator,’’ said Henry. “He gets into the room and gets guys on the page, ‘This is what I’m thinking’ before practice. And just his systematic way of thinking. He has great leadership skills. He talks to the receivers the way they need to be talked to, each one individually. So I feel comfortable with where we are going.”
Henry noted that it’s normal protocol for a quarterback to join the receiver room and talk through everything with his receivers.
“That’s name of the game: Communication rules the nation,’’ Henry said. “But he does a great job of writing it on the board some things to make sure he gets it out or he will communicate it to me. He does a good job with it.”
On Tuesday, Mayfield and Beckham connected on back-to-back touchdown passes in a red-zone drill, and on another deep ball in a 7-on-7 period. They hooked up several days and had one of their best days together in camp.
“It’s going along fine,’’ said Henry. “That’s the thing where each and every day it’s getting better and better. You see today they strung together a good day. There’s going to be the ebbs and the flows, and you gotta stay with it.”
Tuesday was also a day when Beckham and Jarvis Landry participated in team drills together and played off each other well. After plays, good or bad, they huddle with Mayfield to talk it through.
“I do see them taking steps forward,’’ he said. “You could see today, especially in the red zone, it’s about spacing, distribution. Today was a good day where they were clicking on all cylinders. But again, you’re only as good as your next, but I see them, especially with Baker with his communication skills with us doing that.”
The more familiar Beckham becomes with the new scheme, the more they’re moving him around. On Tuesday, he worked in the slot where his buddy Landry usually resides in three wides.
“He was the third guy,’’ Henry said. “So just kind of moving him around so as we get comfortable. It’s about moving him around so now defenses they cannot just pin him.”
Henry said Beckham did likewise early in his career in New York and at LSU. “So it’s just about him getting comfortable with what we’re doing here and as we go down systematically and shrink to a game week we’ll be able to do some things more,” he said.
Henry has watched Mayfield assume more of a leadership role, such as in the first week when he blew up at his receivers — Pro Bowlers that they are — to come back to the ball on a scramble drill.
“That’s a good thing for him to do,’’ Henry said. “The receivers don’t take anything (personally), and they know what type of leader he is, what type of quarterback he is and that’s no problem.’’
Between reps, Beckham can be seen dancing, coaching up the young receivers and goofing around with staffers. He’s keeping things light and is enjoying himself.
“He seems very comfortable,’’ said Henry. “He seems very relaxed being in Cleveland. The city of Cleveland really has embraced him. And so I just see him in a different place where he’s comfortable with the players. He’s comfortable with Baker and Coach Kitchens. I’m pleased where he’s at just in a space more personally.”