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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Baker Mayfield: Mental Challenges Now Will Pay Off in Long Run

New OC Liam Coen isn't taking it easy this offseason on Baker Mayfield and his teammates when it comes to installing the offense, but Mayfield welcomes the challenge as he seeks to be an even better leader


Baker Mayfield knows a thing or two about learning a new playbook. After all, he's currently in the midst of that process for the fourth time in the last 24 months.

Once the first-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and an entrenched four-year starter in Cleveland, Mayfield has regained some sense of stability after a somewhat nomadic stretch of his career. He won a competition for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting quarterback job last summer, then put together the best season of his career and helped his new team get to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. As a result, he then landed a new multi-year contract to remain in Tampa. However, that doesn't mean he's facing an offseason free of significant change, above and beyond the fact that he's a first father with an eight-week-old at home.

In this case, the big change came when Dave Canales, who spent one season as the Buccaneers' offensive coordinator and played a key role in Mayfield's resurgence, landing the head coaching job with the Carolina Panthers. That put the Bucs back on the market for a play-caller, and they landed on Liam Coen, whose background includes several stints with Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams. There are some similarities between the systems run by Canales and Coen, but there's also plenty that is different, and Coen isn't hesitating to throw a lot of the new stuff at Mayfield and his teammates right away.

"Everybody's hearing it; we're all talking about, learning from good and bad plays," said Mayfield after an OTA practice on Tuesday morning. "That's what this time period is about. You can't win or lose ballgames right now, you can only try to get better. Yeah, just trying to get to know the younger guys. We've got a lot of guys that have promise and that's what you want to see. You want to see them busting their tails, working and trying to learn it, because you really want to stress the mental aspect of the game right now. Try to learn as much as you can, to where when it comes to live bullets in training camp it's second nature.

"That's why I like the way Liam's installed the offense as well. He puts a lot on you mentally in the front. It is a little mentally taxing but it's good in the long run."

Tuesday's OTAs was the seventh of the 10 allowed by the NFL's offseason regulations. The Bucs will finish up that allotment this week, then have a three-day mandatory mini-camp next week to cap their offseason program. The team has had near total attendance for OTAs and Mayfield says that continuity has helped in the efforts to get everybody on the same page before the really intense preparations begin in training camp.

"It just presents so many different issues for a defense when it comes to their rules," said Mayfield of Coen's offensive complexities. "Obviously, there's a lot of shifts, a lot of motions, things like that. It makes them think about their rules and have to react on the fly. For us, it's a lot of learning, that part, because if we're not doing our job it doesn't matter what the defense is thinking. It's tough there, but it presents different issues that they have to conquer."

This time around, Mayfield is not only learning another offense but also shouldering more responsibility as Coen gives him more opportunities to change play calls and protection schemes in the huddle. One way Coen is trying to improve the Buccaneers' sluggish run game is by frequently sending in multiple potential calls so that Mayfield can get them out of a bad look before the snap. Mayfield actually spent some time with the Rams in 2022, famously starting and winning a game just a couple days after arriving as a December waiver claim, so he may have some groundwork for understanding what is being thrown at him. However, he's taking the approach that he is starting over fresh with the rest of his Tampa Bay teammates.

"There's a lot more responsibility – line of scrimmage, a lot more double play calls where you're having to get the guys in the right positions," he said. "But as a quarterback, you want to have that responsibility and accountability. You always want to put your guys in the best position to have success, so now Liam's giving us the opportunity with a couple play calls to be able to do that. Like I said, it's more mentally taxing but [I'm] just relearning the system and not taking it with the mindset that I've been here before but really starting from square one."

Mayfield also wants to stay ahead of the curve in the process of the new offensive install because, as the starting quarterback, he's naturally in a position to lead his teammates down that path. Mayfield's leadership skills are unquestioned – the Bucs didn't pick their captains until after the season had started last year, and by the time they did they were already ready to give Mayfield a "C" on his jersey – but he thinks he can do even better in that regard.

"I am vocal, but most of the time I'm only vocal when I need to be, kind of a lead-by-example type of guy," he said. "Really now it's taking the next step in the vocal aspect of getting everybody on the same page. You never want to feel comfortable. Yeah, is it great that I know I'm going to be here for a couple years? Of course. It means I get to settle in here, be myself even more so, and push these guys to the next level. Yeah, that's a good feeling."

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