BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – DeShone Kizer’s connections with Ben Roethlisberger run deeper than their shared Ohio roots, rocket right arms and jersey numbers.
Turns out, Kizer even owned Big Ben.
“I’m sure I drafted him in fantasy leagues,” Cleveland’s rookie quarterback said.
Things are about to get very real on Sunday for Kizer, who will make his NFL regular-season debut against one of his boyhood idols — and a nasty defense — when the Browns, without top pick Myles Garret, host Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers in their opener.
For Kizer, the former Notre Dame starter who just might be the Browns’ answer to a long-term solution at quarterback, the chance to match up against Roethlisberger is almost too much to believe.
“It is surreal,” he said. “There is a lot of that that has happened. I step out there in all of the preseason games that I play, and I look at guys that I have been watching on TV since I have been young. Big Ben has been playing in this league since I have been in grade school, so that is just a really weird concept.”
Kizer isn’t intimidated in going against a quarterback likely destined for immortalization with a Hall of Fame bust. Kizer may have a lot to learn as a pro, but he knows he doesn’t have to take on Roethlisberger by himself.
“His 11 on offense are going against my 11, and our 11 on offense are going against his defense,” Kizer said. “He is going to become an enemy as soon as that ball gets snapped and we flip the coin. I look forward to being out there.”
After preaching the need to be patient in developing Kizer, Browns coach Hue Jackson decided there was no sense in waiting and made him his starter. Jackson believes Kizer is ready and he’ll challenge him to perform like a seasoned veteran.
“He is a starting quarterback in the National Football League, whether he is young, old or whatever, so he has to go play and he knows that,” Jackson said of Kizer, who will be Cleveland’s 27th different starting QB since 1999.
“Do I have an expectation for him? Yes. Does he need to understand the situation in the first game in our stadium against the Pittsburgh Steeler? Yes, he does, but if I know DeShone well, he is gearing up ready to play and excited about the opportunity.”
Just 21, Kizer grew up 45 miles from the hometown of Roethlisberger, who has become something of a folk hero in their region.
On Sunday, Kizer will be closer than ever to Pittsburgh’s No. 7, a player he hopes to emulate.
“He is a guy who doesn’t go down easily,” Kizer said. “He is a guy who obviously prepares like the best of them, and then within his confidence. You have to be a guy who is weatherproof, a guy who is as tough as it gets. That is something that I am going to have to be able to do here in Cleveland.”
Things to look for on Sunday:
MYLES BEHIND: Garrett is expected to miss several weeks with a right ankle sprain the Browns hope doesn’t bother the No. 1 overall pick all season. It’s already the second injury since the spring for Garrett, who was slowed by a left ankle sprain last season at Texas A&M.
Garrett’s loss takes away Cleveland’s best pass-rushing threat, which will make Roethlisberger even more dangerous.
HAPPY RETURNS? Pittsburgh’s wealth of talent at receiver also left it with a problem: When the Steelers traded Sammie Coates to Cleveland and cut DeMarcus Ayers and Knile Davis, it left them without a proven kick or punt returner outside of Antonio Brown. Rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster could get some run, as could cornerback Artie Burns. Brown may hold on to his job as punt returner, a spot coach Mike Tomlin has been trying to find someone else to take for years.
HADEN’S BACK: For Joe Haden, Sunday’s game is a homecoming he could have never imagined. The cornerback was released last week after seven seasons with the Browns, who felt Haden’s production — he played in 18 games the past two seasons because of injury — wasn’t in line with his $11 million salary.
Haden quickly signed with the Steelers, a team he rarely beat in the past.
“I was just looking forward to trying to get to the playoffs, trying to spread my career to play where I haven’t played,” Haden said. “With them, I knew the opportunity was going to be there.”
GOOD TO GO? Steelers safety Mike Mitchell sat out August with a lower-body injury. Now that September is here, the quarterback of Pittsburgh’s revamped secondary appears ready to play. Mitchell hasn’t missed a game during his three seasons despite being one of the most punishing hitters in the league. If Mitchell stays healthy, it gives coordinator Keith Butler considerably more options as he tries to institute more man-to-man coverage.
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