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The Browns on Hard Knocks: Five reasons the timing is right

By MARY KAY CABOT • May 19, 2018 at 1:01 AM

CLEVELAND — Browns GM John Dorsey and coach Hue Jackson didn’t really want to spend the first year of their shotgun marriage under the bright lights of HBO, but when Hard Knocks came knockin’ this year, they couldn’t say no.

The Browns are too big a draw this season with No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner with the fiery personality and occasional emotional outbursts that the cameras will love.

Besides, when your co-owner in Dee Haslam has spent her entire life in television production, it would be tough to keep turning HBO away. Haslam understands the value of Hard Knocks and the national buzz it can bring the team. It’s a chance to polish up the product and put it on display for all the world to see.

What’s more, the Browns have already had their own cameras capturing key moments for their Building the Browns series that ran on Facebook Watch and Newsnet5 in the weeks leading up to the draft, and which will air again during camp. They’re used to the intrusion.

Coming off 0-16, the Browns have revamped their front office, their coaching staff, and their roster. It’s a new day in Browns Town, and Jackson will jump in the lake on June 1 for charity — with the HBO and NFL Films crew there — to cleanse the organization of 0-16 and 1-31. The new cast of characters is far more colorful this season than last, and they’re ready to show it off in the five episodes that will run from Aug. 7 to Sept. 4.

Here are five reasons the timing is right:

1. Jackson and Dorsey are singing from the same hymnal

Jackson wanted no part of Hard Knocks heading into last season, probably because he and former Browns head of football operations Sashi Brown were butting heads, and that would’ve been impossible to hide from the cameras. The two men clashed over how to build a roster, and by last offseason, signs pointed to a split.

This season, all of that has changed. Jackson and Dorsey speak the same language of football, and they’re like-minded in evaluating talent. They've also collaborated to aggressively overhaul the roster. They have their differences of opinion like all head coaches and GMs do, but it’s night and day from the Jackson-Brown mismatch. The perception persists that Dorsey is waiting for the first chance to fire Jackson, and this series will give fans a chance to see them working hand-in-hand.

2. In front of Baker

Mayfield is the main attraction of the series, and has the star power to carry it. He’s coming off a nine-episode docu-series called Behind Baker, and he came off as funny, engaging, charismatic and entertaining. He made fun of himself doing push-ups to pump up before his shirtless SI photo shoot.

Now, HBO and NFL Films have a chance to spotlight what’s In Front of Baker, the Browns’ quarterback of the future. Tyrod Taylor has already been named the starter for 2018, but Mayfield has never taken no for an answer. Hard Knocks would’ve been too much for the 21-year-old DeShone Kizer to handle last season while gearing up to try carry a bad football team, but Mayfield can handle it.

He’s 23 and he’s started twice as many college games as many of his peers — 47. At 6-foot and overlooked coming out of high school, he walked on at Texas Tech and Oklahoma and won the starting job both times. He’s no shrinking violet and has already told Sirius XM NFL radio that "it can be good if you handle it right." Mayfield was born for a show like this, unlike 2016 No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff, who didn’t love the constant scrutiny.

Goff told the Dan Patrick Show last offseason when he didn't have the camera on him anymore, “You know, those guys were good to us, but not having to look over your shoulder or think about ‘What am I listening to with my music?’ or ‘What am I saying in the meeting rooms?’ You don’t have to think about any of that, you can just be yourself. It’s fun.”

For Mayfield, the fun will likely begin when the cameras go on.

3. It's a star-studded cast

The Browns have a cast of rich, colorful characters this year, which will make for some compelling story lines. It starts with John Dorsey and his folksy vernacular — the "buddy boys" and “Kemo Sabes,’’ and his seven matching gray Browns sweatshirts, one for each day. Dorsey loves to hold court, tell stories, entertain and cajole.

Gregg Williams, who was on Hard Knocks with the Rams in 2016, is one-man show during training camp, with expletives flying around as often as footballs. Players such Jarvis Landry, Jabrill Peppers, David Njoku and Myles Garrett are flamboyant and will pop on camera. Josh Gordon loves the spotlight and will shine. Whereas it may have been slim pickins’ last year, there’s more than enough pizzazz to go around this year.

4. The Browns can get some of their fans back

Browns fans have been jumping ship over the years, and this is a chance to not only get some of them back, but also to recruit new ones. Mayfield has the potential to develop the same kind of cult following that Johnny Manziel had before he went off the rails, and bring younger fans into the fold. Jackson can flip the script for angry fans who blame 1-31 all on him, and his 0-16 plunge into Lake Erie for charity will undoubtedly be played up.

Fans will get a glimpse of all the talent the Browns have added this season, and get them excited about the season. The team also has a lot of underdogs and castoffs that fans will be able to get behind. Landry, Taylor, safety Damarious Randall and others were no longer wanted by their teams. Dorsey and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were fired by their previous employers. Fans should find plenty to root for here.

5. The Browns have a chance to win some games

Heading into last season, the Browns knew they weren’t going to contend, and winning would’ve been a tough sell on Hard Knocks. All of that has changed this year.

They have a starting quarterback in Tyrod Taylor who took the Bills to the playoffs last year. They have a new star receiver in Jarvis Landry, and Josh Gordon around for the whole offseason for the first time in years. They have two new stud running backs in Nick Chubb and Carlos Hyde. They have a brand new secondary, led by No. 4 overall pick Denzel Ward. Some experts are calling the Browns the “it’’ team of the season, and plenty anticipate a dramatic turnaround from 0-16.

Hard Knocks might be chronicling the turning point of the franchise.

* * *

Browns finalizing trade to send Taylor to Arizona

CLEVELAND — The Browns are finalizing a deal to send defensive back Jamar Taylor to the Arizona Cardinals, cleveland.com has confirmed. Details on what the Browns will receive in return are not yet available.

Taylor, who started 15 games last season, popped up on the trading block during draft weekend, and was expendable now that the Browns have added No. 4 overall pick Denzel Ward, T.J. Carrie, E.J. Gaines and Terrance Mitchell.

The Browns also have Briean Boddy-Calhoun and others on the roster.

Taylor is under contract through 2019 and was due $4.525 million this year.

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