BEREA, Ohio — Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield helped jumpstart the rebuilding process for the Cleveland Browns when, without taking a snap with the first-team offense in training camp, he led the team to seven wins and kept them mathematically in the playoff discussion until Week 15.
Apparently, Mayfield did more than just lead the greatest year-to-year turnaround in franchise history, as his presence helped the Browns attract sought-after coordinators Todd Monken (offense) and Steve Wilks (defense) after Freddie Kitchens was hired as coach on January 12.
“You can’t win in this league if you don’t have a quarterback,” Wilks said in the coordinators’ introductory press conferences in Berea Thursday. “We have a quarterback. Not only do we have one, we have one that I consider to be, from my study and what I learned on him coming out of college, he’s an alpha male.
“He affects not only the offensive side of the ball, but this team, and that was very attractive coming here.”
Mayfield threw more touchdowns passes than any other rookie in the 99-year history of the NFL.
Mayfield broke the NFL record co-held by future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning and multi-time Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl signal-caller Russell Wilson with his 27th touchdown throw of the season with 3:24 to play in regulation of a 26-24 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC North Division clash at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on December 30.
Mayfield completed 310 of his 486 attempts (63.8 percent) for 3,725 yards and the 27 touchdowns against 14 interceptions after taking over the first-team offense in the second quarter of a Week 3 win over the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“A chance to catch a franchise ascending, that’s what you’re trying to do,” Monken said. “Get somewhere where you’ve got young, talented players.”
Wilks added, “I can’t ask for a better opportunity. I wanted to be here and I’m glad things worked out. I had some opportunities, but this was the first place I wanted to come. I scheduled this first because this is where I wanted to be.”
The motivation for special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer to join the Browns organization was two-fold.
Not only did Priefer see an opportunity to join an organization with plenty of young talent that was seemingly on the rise, but also, a chance to come back to his hometown.
The son of Chuck Priefer, the former football coach at Padua Franciscan High School in Parma, a Cleveland suburb, Mike spent his first 10 years in Northeast Ohio, including five in Middleburg Heights and five more in Brunswick before he started moving around to follow his father’s career.
“I’m the new special-teams coordinator of the Cleveland Browns, and it sounds really cool to say that because being from this area, I grew up a big Browns fans, Indians, Cavaliers, and I’m really excited to be here,” Priefer said. “It’s a huge opportunity, a great time to be a Brown with the team that we have.
“We have passionate fans here. It’s funny. I was in the Navy, and I’d be overseas in the Mediterranean somewhere and I’d run into somebody wearing an Indians hat or a Browns t-shirt, so I know there’s fans all over the world that are passionate about their Browns, so it’s really exciting to be here. I’m proud and happy to be a part of it.”