'If you're in this room, we believe in you': Browns quarterback Nick Mullens preps for big career opportunity
Middle linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. prides himself on the fact that he’s one of the first Browns players in the building every day.
But he’s never beaten third-string quarterback Nick Mullens.
“Nick Mullens is always there before me,” Walker said on a conference call. “A guy that comes in every day with the mindset that ‘I’m preparing like a starter because you never know what could happen’ and he’s the epitome of that.
“Today at practice he made some great throws. I have nothing but respect for him and his process of being a true professional. Also, I have nothing but confidence he’s going to go out and do a great job on Monday as well.”
With the Browns’ COVID-19 outbreak a fluid situation ahead of Monday’s rescheduled home game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Mullens took his first snaps with the first team Saturday.
Browns starting quarterback Baker Mayfield and backup Case Keenum are both on the reserve/COVID-19 list and even with the league’s revamped protocols, there’s no certainty one or both will be activated by Monday’s 2 p.m. cutoff before the 5 p.m. kickoff.
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Mullens, 26, initially joined the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted rookie out of Southern Mississippi in May 2017. Released by the Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 28, Mullens was signed to the Browns practice squad on Sept. 1. He was elevated on Thursday as a COVID-19 replacement.
“He's a pro,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said of Mullens. “He's been in our system, which is similar to what they were doing out in San Francisco. He understands how we operate. He's been here long enough where he knows our cadence real well, the shifts, motions, those type of things, just based on his experience.
"He did a nice job [in practice], and we're going to use this extra time to continue to answer any questions he may have and clear up the game plan and all those types of things.”
Mullens played for the 49ers from 2018-20 and went 5-11 as a starter. He has completed 64.5% of his career passes for 4,714 yards and 25 touchdowns with 22 interceptions for a passer rating of 87.2.
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“He's made a bunch of plays in his career. He's played a lot of football in his career. His attitude is outstanding,” Stefanski said. “He does a great job in that quarterback meeting room day in and day out, gives a great look to the defense during the scout team periods.”
Even with his past experience, Mullens knows what kind of career opportunity Monday could be, if only to reintroduce himself to other teams.
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“It is, it definitely is. Any time you step on the field it’s a new opportunity, it’s a huge opportunity,” he said. “The goal is to play as long as you can. The only way you do that is prove it each and every day. I’ve been blessed in some really different ways to get my opportunities. So it’s up to me and up to our team to really just go take advantage of ‘em.”
Mullens also realizes that if Mayfield or Keenum comes off the COVID-19 list, he will be relegated to the bench, or even back to the practice squad if both are available.
“This is my fifth year in the NFL and I’ve learned to expect anything, really,” he said.
Stefanski pointed out that Browns offensive assistant T.C. McCartney was with Mullens in San Francisco in 2017-18, so McCartney knows what kind of person and player Mullens is. McCartney is one of three Browns coaches, along with Stefanski and acting running backs coach Ryan Cordell, working remotely after they tested positive for COVID-19.
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Having McCartney in Cleveland has given him “a lot of comfort” since he arrived, Mullens said.
“I was in this type of system in San Francisco, and then to be back in this system in Cleveland with the help of T.C., it’s been great,” Mullens said. “I’ve learned in this league the more that you know the better, the more you can do the better. That’s why we play football, to be the best version of ourselves. What we’re trying to do here and this week is just another continuation of that. For me it’s like, ‘I knew this much last week. How much more can I learn this week? How much more prepared can I be this week?’”
Asked if he had other offers and came to the Browns because of the system, Mullens said, “To have a system you’re familiar with, you can operate it. Yeah, I was fired up to get back in this system for sure.”
Mullens has also had the help of Mayfield and Keenum all season, along with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt.
“They’ve been great … helping me along, any tidbits that they see. Case and Baker are very smart quarterbacks, very smart football players, and really good leaders for this team. We work together, we share ideas, we share concepts that we see that look good on tape, along with the help of coach AVP. I really like our room, it’s been great, just a lot of good energy. Whatever happens, we’re going to stay optimistic, do our jobs and prepare to win.”
The Browns could be without three offensive linemen slated to start — left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., right guard Wyatt Teller and rookie left tackle James Hudson III, all on the reserve/COVID-19 list. With Blake Hance, Michael Dunn taking over two of those spots, Mullens spoke calmly.
“The thing that sticks out to me is pretty much every day in our team meetings coach Stefanski tells us, ‘If you’re in this room, we believe in you,’” Mullens said. “That could not be more true this week. We’re here because our coaches believe in us and so it’s our job to go prove them right.”
Mullens had one practice to prepare for the Raiders, with Keenum taking the first-team reps Thursday and then undergoing COVID-19 testing afterward. Mullens likes what he sees in terms of the Browns’ focus.
“The energy is off the charts, I think that’s the coolest thing about it,” Mullens said. “As to the focus, the energy, the camaraderie it’s still there and we’re excited.”
The Browns (7-6) face a must-win situation against the Raiders (6-7), and Mullens realizes what a victory would mean.
“Any time you win a game, especially an important game, it boosts the team, boosts the city, boosts the fans,” Mullens said. “I heard something the other day, ‘You play the game to inspire people.’ I do believe that’s a reason why we play this game, to inspire people. You’ve just got to be ready for whatever comes at us.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.