Browns takeaways: Alex Van Pelt comfortable without calling plays, but his success in wild-card win is remembered

Nate Ulrich
Akron Beacon Journal
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) meets with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, center, and coach Kevin Stefanski during a game earlier this season. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

Alex Van Pelt's phone started blowing up when a rumor circulated on social media Monday about the Browns offensive coordinator meeting with University of Pittsburgh football coach Pat Narduzzi about a job.

Before Van Pelt was an NFL quarterback, he had become the fifth collegiate player to throw for 2,000 yards in four consecutive seasons as Pitt's starter from 1989-92.

But Van Pelt said it's not true that he has talked to Pitt officials about returning to his old stomping grounds as a coach for the Panthers.

“I have no idea where that had come from,” he said Thursday on Zoom. “I have not spoken with anybody from the University of Pittsburgh. I'm very happy they had a heck of a season. As a fan, I followed and watched, but I definitely have not been contacted by anybody from there.”

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The Browns (7-9) were a huge disappointment in the 2021 season, which will end with Sunday's finale against the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) at FirstEnergy Stadium.

But where would the logic be in Van Pelt leaving to go to Pitt?

Former Browns quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple resigned last month as Pitt's offensive coordinator. Van Pelt doesn't call the plays for the Browns because coach Kevin Stefanski does. Van Pelt insisted he is still fine with the collaborative process they have in place.

“I work for Coach Kevin, and I'm happy whichever role that would be,” Van Pelt said. “I think Kevin feels most comfortable calling the plays, and I don't know if I would disagree with him if I were in his shoes as well. We do a lot together. Hopefully, as usual, we'll all have voices in the play calling as it goes forward. But I don't feel the need, like I need to call this game. I think Kevin does a great job, and I'm very comfortable in the role that I'm in now.”

Van Pelt isn't just the Browns' offensive coordinator. He's also their quarterbacks coach, and he is beloved by the QBs with whom he's worked, including reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers. Stefanski ought to do what he can to ensure Van Pelt is retained.

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Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, left, said he has not been contacted by the University of Pittsburgh about a coaching job at his alma mater.

Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt's success as play caller in playoffs hasn't been forgotten

Stefanski also should strongly consider letting Van Pelt call the plays.

Van Pelt did so nearly a year ago in the Browns' 48-37 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in a wild-card playoff game that Stefanski missed because he had contracted COVID-19.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield thought Van Pelt did an excellent job filling in. On the other hand, Mayfield has criticized Stefanski's play calling and game planning twice in news conferences this season.

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Van Pelt called the plays once this season, when Stefanski was sidelined Dec. 20 for a 16-14 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders amid the team's COVID-19 outbreak. But Mayfield missed the game due to the virus, too, so he has yet to get a second crack with Van Pelt as the play caller, something the quarterback believes would lead to success.

Nearly a year ago, Mayfield complimented Van Pelt's calls on Nick Chubb and Jarvis Landry catch-and-runs for touchdowns, describing the timing against the Steelers as “unbelievable” — in the best possible way.

Mayfield didn't play well this season, and shouldn't be dictating who calls the plays. At the same time, the play calling could have been much better, and Stefanski has a promising in-house option in Van Pelt.

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Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, right, talks with head coach Kevin Stefanski on the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

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Mayfield's issues with Stefanski's play calling and the Browns downplaying the affect the quarterback's injuries had on his performance in 2021 have been on public display this season.

It appears relationship repair is needed, though Van Pelt said he hasn't seen tension between Stefanski and Mayfield.

"No, absolutely not. I've seen zero of that,” Van Pelt said. “Kevin is in our meetings every day, comes in, we talk through everything that was installed every day. I know the line of communication is wide open between those two guys. I know they met weekly on Tuesdays to make sure everything was good. I don't feel that at all. I don't. Kevin's always been open and very communicative with all the players and coaches as well.”

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Asked Wednesday about the status of his relationship with Mayfield, given the offense's challenges in 2021, Stefanski said, “In terms of relationship with any of the players, I think it's something we always as coaches work on and try to challenge our guys and support our guys, so I feel no different with Baker. I know it's easy to look at the frustration that we've had offensively and you want to pin it all on one player, and that's just totally unfair.”

Mayfield's 2021 season is over, with Stefanski announcing Tuesday the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft won't play against the Bengals as he readies for surgery on the completely torn labrum he suffered in his left, non-throwing shoulder in Week 2.

Mayfield's surgery is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Orr Limpisvasti on Jan. 19 in Los Angeles, a person familiar with the situation confirmed Wednesday night, and rehabilitation is expected to last four to six months.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) hangs his head as he walks off the field following a 37-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in an NFL football game at FirstEnergy Stadium, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Cleveland, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt agrees with Case Keenum about Baker Mayfield's toughness

Backup quarterback Case Keenum, who will start against the Bengals, said Wednesday “it was a small miracle” Mayfield played at some points this season because he was so banged up.

“I feel for him,” Van Pelt said. “I really do appreciate his effort on the season. The guy was definitely in pain a lot of the times. I think Case said it well yesterday when talking about Baker and how tough he is. I know I've been around some tough guys, but he's up at the top of the list with the stuff he endured and went through this year.

“I appreciate his efforts. I know he wanted to be there for his teammates, but at some point, you have to make the decision that the situation, his health is most concerning. [Now it's time to get] him healthy and get him right for the offseason for next year.”

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This is the question everyone is asking now after others have been asking it for months: If Mayfield is so injured, why didn't the Browns shut him down sooner?

He played in all but two games, sitting out against the Raiders with COVID-19 and a Week 7 win over the Denver Broncos on the heels of a suffering a fractured humerus bone in the same problematic shoulder four days earlier against the Arizona Cardinals. He had been wearing a shoulder harness since the initial injury occurred in Week 2, and Van Pelt admitted last week the equipment “handcuffed” and “hindered” Mayfield, a notion Stefanski discounted later the same day.

“We felt that he was healthy enough to give us the best chance to win at that position,” Van Pelt said. “Big year for Baker as far as learning how to play through injury. Really proud of him. It's not uncommon in this league that guys play with things throughout the course of the year and get repaired in the offseason. It's kind of the way it goes.

“It was his non-throwing shoulder. He was harnessed up and protected to the point the game that he wasn't healthy enough to play, we started Case. But it's a medical question, and each week if he was cleared medically to play, we thought it was the best interest of the team to play him and give us the best chance to win.”

Mayfield finished the season 253-of-418 passing (60.5%) for 3,010 yards and 17 touchdowns with 13 interceptions for a rating of 83.1 and went 6-8 as a starter. His completion percentage ranks 28th among 32 qualifying quarterbacks and his rating is 27th. He rushed 37 times for 134 yards (3.6 average) and a touchdown. He took 43 sacks, including nine in a 26-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on “Monday Night Football” at Heinz Field. The Browns were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention the previous day.

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Last season, Mayfield completed 62.8% of his passes for 3,563 yards and 26 touchdowns with eight interceptions for a career-high rating of 95.9. He rushed 54 times for 165 yards (3.1 average) and a touchdown and took 26 sacks. He went 11-5 as a starter in the regular season, helping the Browns make the playoffs for the first time since 2002, then quarterbacked the wild-card win over the Steelers and a 22-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round.

Mayfield, 26, is under contract with the Browns through next season because General Manager Andrew Berry exercised the fifth-year option on the player's rookie deal for $18.858 million. Yet the quarterback's future with the franchise is a big question mark heading into the offseason.

“Statistically, [Mayfield] didn't have the year he had last year,” Van Pelt said. “Wasn't the same body, healthy person he was last year, either, so all of that gets taken into consideration.”

Even if Mayfield isn't back, Van Pelt should be.

Alex Van Pelt, offensive coordinator, walks the field during team practice at the BrownsÕ training facility in Berea on  on Monday Aug. 17, 2020.

Nate Ulrich can be reached at

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