CLEVELAND (AP) — Baker Mayfield played on a big stage at Oklahoma, so he’s not scared of stepping onto football’s biggest one.
The Cleveland Browns’ rookie quarterback — and perhaps their QB of the future — will make his NFL exhibition debut Thursday night as Cleveland visits the New York Giants in a game that will feature the top two overall picks in this year’s draft: Mayfield and Giants running back Saquon Barkley.
Almost from the time he first picked up a football, the Heisman Trophy winner has been looking forward to his first game action as a pro. But he won’t let that thrill overwhelm him.
“Played this game for a long time, I don’t get nervous,” said Mayfield, currently No. 2 on Cleveland’s depth chart behind Tyrod Taylor. “So I’m going to say I’m not going to have to worry about that part. Anytime I get the chance to play ball, yeah, I get excited, but however much I play I’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity, that’s for sure.”
Coach Hue Jackson wants to play Mayfield two quarters, sending him in after Taylor gets in some work leading Cleveland’s first-team offense for a series or two.
The Browns’ plan — at this point — is to have Mayfield spend the season watching and learning behind Taylor, who led Buffalo to the playoffs last season and has quickly established himself as a leader in Cleveland.
Mayfield understands he has to be patient, and while waiting for his turn he’s had an impressive training camp. He releases the ball quickly and accurately, and Mayfield seems to have a solid grasp of coordinator Todd Haley’s offense.
But although Jackson said Mayfield has exceeded expectations, he’s committed to opening the season with Taylor behind center.
“We are going to grow our quarterbacks,” Jackson said last week. “Tyrod Taylor is our quarterback. Baker Mayfield is competing and getting better each and every day, still learning the National Football League. Has done a really nice job of learning our system and improving every day.”
The 23-year-old Mayfield showed poise during an intrasquad scrimmage last week. He led Cleveland’s backups on an opening touchdown drive, but later struggled in the red zone against Cleveland’s starting defense and also threw his first interception of camp.
He knows the tempo and intensity will be even higher against the Giants.
“When you get the energy level up, you’ve got to be able to execute, so that’s why I’m excited about Thursday as well,” he said. “You get people hyped up, you actually get some contact in and you can focus in and do your job when there are distractions around, so I think we handled the first one pretty well, but it definitely can go a lot better.”
Although he became a major college star, Mayfield had to fight every step of the way. He was a walk-on at Texas Tech and with the Sooners, and Mayfield feels those experiences prepared him to handle not starting now.
He’s a backup, and Mayfield is making the most of being one.
“Whenever I got to Texas Tech I wasn’t given an opportunity to get out there, as well, then when I got to OU, I was on scout team,” he said. “It’s how I’ve always handled it, whatever opportunity I get, to make sure I get better I need to take advantage of that. So right now that’s doing second-team reps, or that’s even translating now doing some card offense, scout-team stuff. Whatever I can do to learn and keep getting reps, that’s the best thing.”