Why Browns star Austin Hooper moved in with Baker Mayfield
Austin Hooper is committed to developing “chemistry” with his new quarterback.
The two-time Pro Bowl tight end, who joined the Cleveland Browns in NFL free agency, has been shacking up with teammate Baker Mayfield to mitigate the impact of the limited offseason amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was staying at Baker’s house for like two or three weeks, so we had a good time when we were practicing and when we were not practicing,” Hooper told reporters on Wednesday. “I definitely think that was kind of the initial spark that really helped our chemistry.”
The 2016 third-rounder from Stanford became the highest-paid tight end in the NFL after agreeing to a four-year, $44 million deal in March. He was previously a member of the Falcons and is regarded as one of the league’s premier tight ends when healthy, tallying 2,244 yards and 16 touchdowns on 214 catches through 59 career regular-season appearances.
“Baker, obviously talented, a strong arm,” he said. “He has a real competitive fire. Those are the two deals that really made me want to sign here were Baker and just his style of quarterback — him being aggressive, has that swag with him, which I do want. I want to play for a quarterback who has that to them a little bit, and obviously, the arm talent is there. It was a really easy decision for me.”
The 25-year old pass-catcher will have to learn a new playbook and compete for looks from Mayfield this season if he hopes to replicate the success he saw in Atlanta, a challenge Hooper sounds very eager to take on.
“The only way to get better at football is by playing more football, and without as much, especially with a new system, could there possibly be some growing pains? Who knows?” he said. “The way that Coach [Kevin] Stefanski and the offensive staff, speaking on my side of the ball, have done such a great job of articulating the new offense and teaching it to us, being a new guy in this offense, I feel pretty comfortable already. I am just really excited to get on the grass and get after it when we are able to do so safely.”
He and Mayfield were able to log “a few hundred reps” during his stay.
The Browns — now led by Stefanski, the former Vikings offensive coordinator — have no shortage of explosive options in their stacked offense. Hooper will have to compete for targets with wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, pass-catching running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and tight ends David Njoku and Harrison Bryant.
Njoku, 24, was selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft and Bryant, 22, was selected in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft in April. Hooper says he hopes to mentor both of his younger counterparts, especially Njoku, who recently demanded a trade last month.
“I get it. It’s a business at the end of the day. You have to do right by your family,” he said. “David and I have always been cool. David and my relationship is still good – still a good dude and really looking forward to working with him.
“I just kind of like to lead by example, and if people have questions, I will answer them. I’m an open book. I don’t try to hoard information. I don’t like doing the whole Jason Witten deal where it’s me versus everyone else in the tight end room. … We are all in this together.”
While it sounds like the pair are no longer living together now that training camp has begun, Hooper remains optimistic that his fledgling bromance with Mayfield will strengthen over time.
“In terms of this interesting situation we have now, we are still able to be around each other in the building and still get reps,” he said. “Are they full speed? No, but the ability to be around each other and being able to work with each other, I feel like the more time you put in with each other, just the better that relationship will grow.”
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