Here comes Baker:

Browns’ top pick ea­ger to learn from QB Tay­lor

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - NEWS - Mike Jones Colum­nist USA TO­DAY

A sur­prise No. 1 pick, May­field ar­rives in Cleve­land with emo­tional bag­gage but an ea­ger­ness to learn on his way to start­ing.

BEREA, Ohio – Through­out the last year, dur­ing his se­nior sea­son at Oklahoma and into his four-month-long march to­ward the NFL draft, Baker May­field’s men­tal makeup gar­nered much scru­tiny.

Critics parsed through his words, stud­ied his ac­tions and tried to dis­cern the dif­fer­ence be­tween con­fi­dence and ar­ro­gance. When­ever asked, May­field called him­self the best quar­ter­back com­ing out of col­lege and said if any­one had what it takes to end the Cleve­land Browns’ decades of mis­ery, he was the guy.

He sold him­self well to Cleve­land of­fi­cials, be­cause the night of April 26 they made him the first pick of the 2018 NFL draft. Now comes the true test, how­ever, be­cause, as May­field ad­mit­ted, the slate has been wiped clean. None of his ac­com­plish­ments in col­lege mat­ter. He’s about to take on a league that in re­al­ity he has no first­hand knowl­edge about.

The Browns wisely plan to rel­e­gate May­field to the bench as a rookie, believ­ing the red­shirt sea­son will best en­sure his de­vel­op­ment and tran­si­tion to the pro ranks un­folds smoothly.

The Browns’ se­lec­tion of May­field was met with a great deal of skep­ti­cism at the draft and in Cleve­land. Mem­bers of the long-suf­fer­ing fan base fully un­der­stood their team’s need for a top-flight quar­ter­back. But they ques­tioned whether Dorsey & Co. had got­ten it right with May­field.

Min­utes af­ter the Browns se­lected him, lo­cal re­porters asked Dorsey about po­ten­tial con­cerns about May­field buck­ing at the idea of back­ing up Ty­rod Tay­lor. Dorsey and coach Hue Jack­son said ab­so­lutely not.

The ques­tion came up again last week at May­field’s in­tro­duc­tory news con­fer­ence. Could he re­ally go from such great heights un­der the bright- est lights to life in the shad­ows of a jour­ney­man such as Tay­lor?

Con­cerned in­di­vid­u­als seem to for­get May­field be­gan his stints at Texas Tech and Oklahoma buried on the depth chart. He re­spected the process, scratched and clawed his way to the top, and he’ll do the same in Cleve­land.

“It’ll be a great thing for me,” he said. “The best thing, and I say it all the time, was what hap­pened at Oklahoma and sit­ting for a year when I trans­ferred. To sit there and be able to fo­cus on the phys­i­cal parts of my body and de­velop it and the men­tal side of the game — learn­ing.”

He added, “Learn­ing from a guy that’s been in the league, that’s seen de­fenses and had to go through the process? I’ve never done it be­fore, so I can’t say I know how it’s done. So I can learn from a guy like Ty­rod and Drew Stan­ton.”

May­field’s best move is to nes­tle right up un­der Tay­lor and soak up as much as he can from him about NFL life on and off the field.

Un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated through­out his ca­reer, Tay­lor is a pro. His study habits help en­sure that he makes smart de­ci­sions and avoids get­ting tricked into mis­takes by de­fenses. He takes care of the ball and knows how to use his mo­bil­ity to extend plays or make some­thing out of noth­ing when the cov­er­age has elim­i­nated his pass­ing op­tions.

But one of Tay­lor’s great­est strengths in­volves the blin­ders and ear plugs that he uses to tune out crit­i­cism. Al­though beloved at Vir­ginia Tech and cov­eted by Buf­falo af­ter team of­fi­cials saw flashes of his po­ten­tial dur­ing spot duty for the Bal­ti­more Ravens, Tay­lor has never been the most pop­u­lar guy. Critics wanted more big plays, and Tay­lor has also had to deal with racially charged vit­riol. But rather than lash out ver­bally in news con­fer­ences, while head­ing into tun­nels as in­sults rain down on him, or on so­cial me­dia, he puts his head down, re­mains within him­self and does his job.

For all of his tal­ent and grit, few would con­sider May­field thick-skinned. He will agree that his com­pet­i­tive fire has got­ten the best of him. He hears and reads the crit­i­cisms and, at times, has held grudges.

But af­ter serv­ing a short sus­pen­sion (two plays) last sea­son for yelling ex­ple­tives and mak­ing an ob­scene ges­ture at Kansas op­po­nents and coaches, May­field said he has started to learn he must better chan­nel his frus­tra­tions.

“That was ab­so­lutely over the top,” he said. “There’s a fine line. You need to be com­pet­i­tive, but a lot of that you can in­ter­nal­ize and use as mo­ti­va­tion … be­hind the scenes, when no one’s around, in the film room. The other stuff, that can’t hap­pen. … It’s a bless­ing to have this re­spon­si­bil­ity and be in this sit­u­a­tion.”

May­field brought up Tay­lor’s fo­cus when asked about the most im­por­tant lessons the vet­er­ans can teach him.

“He’s a guy that he blocks out ev­ery­thing,” May­field ex­plained. “Even with the vis­its with the Bills and now here, they talk about how he’s up here, he’s the ear­li­est one and the last one to leave, so you can tell it’s all foot­ball. He’s fo­cused, and that’s the kind of guy you want to be around. He can change the cul­ture re­ally quick, and that’s why I’m ex­cited to be around him.”

It’s al­most ironic May­field now comes to Ohio where he an­gered Ohio State fans when, af­ter lead­ing the Soon­ers to a 31-16 up­set, he ran around the Buck­eyes sta­dium with an Oklahoma flag and then planted it in the “O” at mid­field.

The Browns’ other firstround pick, Ohio State cor­ner­back Den­zel Ward (drafted fourth over­all), chuck­led at the news con­fer­ence and said May­field has work to do to win over the city. But he thinks his new quar­ter­back has it in him to do so. “I think they will embrace Baker be­cause he is a com­peti­tor and he loves to win,” Ward said. “Once we start win­ning, of course they will embrace him.”

May­field will even­tu­ally be­come the 30th Browns start­ing quar­ter­back since 1999. But he’s not let­ting that prompt him to feel pres­sure or lose pa­tience in the process the Browns have mapped out for him.

“The game of foot­ball doesn’t change no mat­ter the stage you’re on,” he said, ex­plain­ing the ad­vice he al­ways gives team­mates and that he plans to fol­low him­self. “It could be the prac­tice field, it could be in front of the most peo­ple you’ve ever played in front of. It’s 11-on-11 when it comes down to it. It’s still a scheme on both sides. When it’s a pres­sure mo­ment like that, I tried to get guys to fo­cus on the ba­sics. You do your 1/11th and don’t even fo­cus on the rest.”


Browns first-round draft picks Den­zel Ward, left, and Baker May­field pose with In­di­ans mas­cot Slider be­fore a base­ball game be­tween the Mariners and Cleve­land at Pro­gres­sive Field.

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