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Browns banking adversity will again make Baker Mayfield better than ever

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Mayfield and Wilson talk about their similarities (3:43)

Before the 2018 NFL draft, Baker Mayfield and Russell Wilson sat down to talk about their similarities in size, playing style and passion for the game. (3:43)

BEREA, Ohio -- High school, college or pro, Baker Mayfield had never been 2-4 until now.

But once before, he was actually 1-2.

During his second season at Oklahoma, Mayfield tossed two interceptions as Ohio State chased him and the Sooners out of their own stadium, effectively eliminating OU from the College Football Playoff just three weeks into the season. Afterward, Bob Stoops called out the leadership on his team, and even singled out Mayfield's performance for not being "near good enough."

Although never to be mistaken for Tim Tebow, Mayfield responded with his own Tebow moment.

"I let this team down," he said then, "and I'm going to work harder than anyone in this program. I'm going to work harder than anyone Coach Stoops has ever seen."

Coming out of a bye week, Mayfield has arrived at a similar crossroads in his second year with the Cleveland Browns.

After entering the season with so much promise, the Browns have been among the NFL's biggest disappointments following a 2-4 start. Mayfield, on the heels of a breakout rookie season, is among the league's most disappointing players, at least statistically.

But those wondering how he might respond to such adversity this time around can look back to the way Mayfield bounced back from that rough stretch to begin the 2016 season.

Those at OU note now that Mayfield made good on his declaration then. He locked in. Blocked out the noise. Rallied his teammates. Even temporarily refrained from the public fray he loves to engage in so much.

By the end of the year, Mayfield rebounded to become a Heisman finalist. And with him leading the way, the Sooners wound up boasting the top offense in the country, setting the stage for their return to the playoff the following year in Mayfield's Heisman-winning season.

"Made him even better," one OU insider noted of Mayfield's early 2016 struggles. "It was fuel for the fire."

The Browns are banking the underwhelming start to this season can fuel Mayfield's fire again. And that from it, he will prove better for it.

"I play best when I'm angry," Mayfield said after a loss to the Seahawks before the bye. "I'm pretty pissed."

Of course, Mayfield’s play is hardly the sole reason the Browns find themselves already three games back of Baltimore in the AFC North standings. And in turn, Mayfield's play alone won't save this Browns season.

As dominant as he was down the stretch for OU in 2016, Mayfield was aided by fellow Heisman finalist Dede Westbrook's recovery from a nagging early-season hamstring injury.

Likewise, Mayfield will need more help than he has received so far in Cleveland, from wide receiver to offensive line.

To address the latter, the Browns are seriously contemplating personnel changes, most notably at left tackle (Greg Robinson) and possibly even right guard (Eric Kush). Cleveland, not so secretly, would love to trade for Washington All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams, as even general manager John Dorsey hinted at last week. That, as one league insider put it, would be "a game-changer" for the Browns.

But with Washington unlikely to budge on a Williams deal this season, better play up front will have to come from players on the current roster. That could include tackle Kendall Lamm, who is working his way back from a Week 1 knee injury, and veteran guard Justin McCray, who's adaptable enough to step in anywhere along the line, including left tackle, if need be.

"Justin is one of our more versatile guys," coach Freddie Kitchens said Monday, without confirming if any line changes are coming. "If he were to go out there at tackle, I would have total confidence in him."

Neither Lamm nor McCray is as talented as Robinson, a former No. 2 overall draft pick in 2014. But the Browns are searching for a more reliable option for Mayfield's blind side, which, they hope at the least, will help their quarterback feel more comfortable in the pocket. Robinson has also been among the most penalized players in the NFL, which has derailed too many drives, including a potential game-winning one via a holding call late in the fourth quarter against Seattle.

On top of any personnel changes up front -- and crisper route running from the wide receivers, who have a big hand (or lack thereof) in Mayfield leading the NFL with 11 interceptions -- a focused adjustment in scheme by Kitchens could give Mayfield a boost, as well.

For all their inconsistency offensively, the Browns have actually been an effective running team behind Nick Chubb, who is one of only four NFL backs averaging more than 100 yards rushing per game. A concerted recommitment to pounding the rock, especially with 2017 rushing champ Kareem Hunt set to join the rotation in three weeks, would take pressure off Mayfield.

So would simplifying the passing game a degree, which also just might jump-start Mayfield’s chemistry and efficiency with receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., who, by the way, the Browns should be taking a shot with downfield with at least a couple times a game.

Selectively speeding up the tempo could help Mayfield rediscover his rhythm, while calling quicker passing plays could assist him in regaining his patented accuracy.

At Oklahoma, Mayfield was never better than when playing fast. And when he unloaded the ball quickly and decisively, he was almost always on the money.

That wasn't the case at the beginning of that 2016 season. Yet out of that tempest, Mayfield emerged better than ever.

Now he has the opportunity to do so yet again.