Fans have chanted his name, teammates have called his first three games the start of an “era” and wide receiver Rashard Higgins speculated that he could one day be the subject of a LeBron James-like downtown mural.
Baker Mayfield even inspired one Cleveland Browns loyalist to mark the occasion of the quarterback’s NFL debut by having a diagram of a two-point conversion play tattooed on his arm.
The play was key in the team’s comeback victory last month over the New York Jets, a triumph that officially launched the legend of a player who once was a walk-on at Texas Tech.
“He grew up real fast,” Chargers safety Adrian Phillips said of Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft out of Oklahoma. “He took off. He went crazy. He went to OU and started going crazy. And now, there’s all this going on.”
Phillips was a senior at Texas when the Longhorns pummeled Mayfield and the Red Raiders 41-16 in November of 2013.
The rout turned out to be Mayfield’s final game at Texas Tech. He transferred to Oklahoma, walked on again and eventually blossomed into a Heisman Trophy winner.
“Nobody ever really expected him to win,” Phillips said. “Nobody expected him to be where he’s at right now. He just took that and molded it into the type of player he is today.”
Phillips and Mayfield will meet again Sunday when the Chargers play in Cleveland.
Before the rookie debuted Sept. 20, the Browns had won one game in two-plus seasons. That victory came on Christmas Eve 2016, the most recent time the Chargers visited Cleveland.
The Browns’ quarterback that day was Robert Griffin III, one of the franchise’s 30 starters at the position since 1999.
A late 13-yard scramble by Mayfield helped Cleveland secure the winning points Sunday in a 12-9 victory over Baltimore.
“I like the way he plays,” Phillips said. “I like his savvy. I like his grit, just how he approaches the game. He approaches it like he’s an underdog.”
Phillips explained that Mayfield’s grinding attitude is so prominent that it’s obvious even when studying his game tapes.
He said the Chargers defenders have remarked among themselves this week that Mayfield plays with an edge, one opponents can appreciate.
“As far as mindset, you couldn’t tell he was the first pick,” Phillips said. “You couldn’t tell that he’s somebody who has it all. He’s out there approaching the game the right way, like he’s an undrafted free agent that they just picked up.”
The game Sunday will feature two of the NFL’s top defensive rookies in safety Derwin James and cornerback Denzel Ward.
James was taken by the Chargers with the 17th pick in the first round in April. Ward was choose fourth overall by the Browns.
“Denzel, he’s doing everything I thought he’d do,” Lynn said. “I loved him coming out of Ohio State. The young man has a lot of confidence, a lot of speed, ball skills. And he’s a good man corner and zone corner.
“My guy, I love him. D.J., we use D.J. in a lot of different places. He does a lot of things for us.”
Linebacker Jatavis Brown (groin) was among the Chargers who did not practice Wednesday, leaving his status for Sunday uncertain. Brown, a former starter, returned to the lineup when Kyzir White (knee) was injured. White isn’t expected to play against Cleveland.
Offensive tackles Russell Okung (groin) and Joe Barksdale (knee) were limited in practice and both could be game-time decisions.
Center Mike Pouncey (knee) and kicker Caleb Sturgis (quadriceps) also were limited. Tight end Virgil Green (rib) and defensive tackle Damion Square (shoulder) participated fully.
Wide receiver Travis Benjamin (foot) remains in a walking boot and isn’t expected to play this weekend.
Defensive end Joey Bosa (foot) will not travel with the team on its trip to Cleveland and London. He’ll remain in Southern California to continue his rehabilitation. Bosa hopes to return to practice sometime following the Chargers’ bye week. After facing Tennessee at Wembley Stadium on Oct. 21, they’re off until playing at Seattle on Nov. 4.