Alex Van Pelt Shoots Down Rumors Of A Rift Between Kevin Stefanski And Baker Mayfield

Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt denies a rift exists between Kevin Stefanski and Baker Mayfield and says he's not hung up on calling plays. (Cleveland Browns)

Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt denies a rift exists between Kevin Stefanski and Baker Mayfield and says he's not hung up on calling plays. (Cleveland Browns)

Alex Van Pelt shoots down rumors of a rift between Kevin Stefanski and Baker Mayfield

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 Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland.

Takeaways from Browns interviews …

Among the pitfalls of a terribly disappointing season are rumors of discontent.

The Browns are dealing with some of that now as their lost season dissolves the Battle of Ohio into a mere Lake Erie Skirmish between backup quarterbacks Case Keenum and Cincinnati’s Brandon Allen on Sunday.

Specifically, there have been reports of bubbling disconnect between Kevin Stefanski and Baker Mayfield with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt standing squarely in the middle.

Because of the impeccable timing of his weekly Zoom conference with media, Van Pelt stepped into the middle of the fray and did his best to defuse the rumors.

Right off the bat, Van Pelt was asked if he sensed frustration in the relationship between head coach and quarterback.

“No, absolutely not,” he said. “I have seen zero of that. Kevin is in our meetings every day. He comes in, and 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 have met weekly on Tuesdays to make sure everything was good. I do not feel that at all. I do not. Kevin has always been open and very communicative with all of the players and coaches, as well.”

Another issue confronting Van Pelt was an Internet rumor that circulated on Monday before the Browns’ game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Heinz Field. It had Van Pelt meeting with University of Pittsburgh officials about a potential job.

Asked if he had spoken to or would speak with his alma mater about a job, Van Pelt said, “No. Not at all.

“Actually, my phone started to ring around that same time, and I have no idea where that had come from. I have not spoken to anybody at the University of Pittsburgh. I am very happy they had a heck of a season as a fan. I followed and watched, but definitely have not been contacted by anybody from there.”

The rumors about Van Pelt are rooted in supposed discontent with not being handed play-calling duties full time by Stefanski.

Van Pelt called the plays in the two games Stefanski was quarantined with COVID – the wild-card romp over Pittsburgh last season and a 16-14 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders this year with QB3 Nick Mullens filling in for COVID-stricken Mayfield and Keenum.

I asked Van Pelt if the season finale against the Bengals, who will rest several regulars for the playoffs, were a perfect opportunity to operate for the first time with Stefanski as CEO head coach and Van Pelt as play-caller. Kind of an audition for a possible full-time role next season.

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

A learning experience

Mayfield’s surgery to repair a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder has been scheduled for later this month. As such, the mystery of why the Browns kept playing Mayfield through the injury heightened on Wednesday when Keenum commented that it was “a small miracle” at times for Mayfield to even get himself ready to play.

Van Pelt offered a new perspective on the mystery when he indicated it was part of the growing process as an NFL quarterback for Baker to learn how to play through injury. Mayfield had never missed a game because of injury since his walk-on freshman season at Texas Tech prior to this year.

“We felt that he was healthy enough and gave us the best chance to win at that position,” Van Pelt said. “A big year for Baker as far as learning how to play through injury. Really proud of him.

“It is not uncommon in this league that guys play with things throughout the course of the year and get repaired in the offseason. It is 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 was not healthy enough to play, we started Case. It is a medical question. Each week if he was cleared medically to play, we thought it was in the best interest to the team to play him and give us the best chance to win.”

Mr. President wants to finish his term

It’s been quite a challenging year for center JC Tretter, what with the constant brushfires tended to as president of the NFLPA, the end of his 60-game consecutive play streak snapped by a COVID positive, and the disappointment of it robbing him of his first chance to play as a visitor to Lambeau Field against his former team.

Tretter, 30, has one more year left on his contract with a base salary of $7.9 million and a hefty salary cap charge of $9.875 million.

Asked if he plans to be back, his answer was a succinct “yep” without elaboration.

In the context of a totally different question, Tretter made an interesting observation about running back Nick Chubb.

“I think the two teammates I hold in highest regard in my career are [former Green Bay receiver] Jordy Nelson and Nick Chubb, who are both very similar guys of quiet, always did the right thing, always just worked hard and kept their mouth shut and was kind of the perfect example of what you should be doing,” Tretter said.

One last chance

By all accounts, cornerback Greg Newsome has had a good first season.

Despite missing five games to injuries and COVID, the team’s official statistics credit him with nine pass breakups – just one shy of team leader and Pro Bowler Denzel Ward. 

Newsome, though, is still looking for that first interception of his NFL career, and he's down to one last game against the Bengals to get it.

“That would be amazing,” he said. “I have talked to Denzel about it, like ‘Man, I feel like it is just not coming.’ He said, ‘It will come eventually.’ It would be amazing to end the year with an interception or maybe a few interceptions, if I can. That would definitely be a good time if I could get one the last game.”

Brownie bits

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (shoulder/knee), defensive tackle Malik McDowell (neck), tight end David Njoku (shoulder) and cornerback Denzel Ward (groin) did not practice. Running backs Nick Chubb (rib) and Kareem Hunt (ankle) were limited. Defensive end Myles Garrett was not even listed on the injury report …

Defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who was one of just seven players on the team to not miss a game, was placed on COVID/reserve.