BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – For 18 years Cleveland has been where quarterbacks have gone to die.
Being signed or drafted by the Browns has been the kiss of death for 26 different starters, but head coach Hue Jackson is determined to change that with No. 27, rookie DeShone Kizer, who had a strong debut in a 21-18 loss to the Steelers Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium.
According to Jackson, the rookie from Notre Dame has given the Browns something they haven’t had in years.
“This young man gives us hope,” Jackson said Monday afternoon.
Mired in nearly 2 decades of losing and a constant carousel at the most important position in football that has seen player after player chewed up and spit out, Jackson’s words Monday are a ray of hope in what has been the darkest stretch in franchise history. The Browns have won just 38 games – including a franchise-worst 1-15 finish a year ago – since their last winning season, a 10-6 campaign in 2007.
Since the Browns selected Kizer with the 52nd overall pick in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Jackson has been careful not to put too much pressure on Kizer or the weight of the franchise on his shoulders, a mistake made by previous regimes with the likes of Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and even Johnny Manziel.
With his first game in the books, Kizer now welcomes the challenge of turning the woebegone laughingstock of the league into a winner.
“It is awesome. This is my dream job,” Kizer said. “I am taking it all head on.”
The debut for the Toledo, Ohio native started like so many others for rookies that have worn brown and orange – awful.
The Browns quickly went 3-and-out after the opening kickoff, their first punt of the day was blocked and recovered in the end zone for a touchdown and they quickly trailed 7-0.
But the ninth rookie to start for the Browns since 1999 and just the second to do it in Week 1 settled in and he ended up completing 20 of 30 passes for 222 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran for another TD, which came on his third offensive series and capped an impressive 12-play, 68-yard drive that included 3 conversions on third down.
Only Colt McCoy in 2010 completed a higher percentage of passes than Kizer did Sunday afternoon in his debut as a rookie.
“He gives you an opportunity to make plays,” Jackson said. “When I looked up, the game was 21-10, and here we are in the fourth quarter with a chance to win the game late in the game and that is because of some plays he made. That is what you expect out of your quarterback. We are talking about a young rookie quarterback who is one of the youngest players in the league at that position. That is exciting for me. I think it is exciting for our organization.”
The 6-foot-4, 233-pound Kizer was able to complete 4 passes for 20 or more yards and had 10 that went for at least 13 against a tough, physical Steelers defense that hit him 8 times Sunday. But Kizer kept getting back up, even after a pair of hits from Ryan Shazier that saw the Steelers linebacker lower his head and shoulders and drive Kizer hard into the ground.
“He is not hurt,” Jackson said. “He is going through it. There is a process that these guys go through, and he is in it. I am not surprised by what happened yesterday.”
The debut was far from perfect.
Kizer was sacked 7 times which cost them 42 yards and he threw a critical interception early in the fourth quarter. The internal clock also isn’t where it needs to be.
“It needs to happen fast,” Kizer said of the adjustments he needs to make. “Obviously, in this last game, that changes the game. Those sacks are moving us out of field goal range. Those sacks are moving us to third-and-extra-long. It is my job to make sure that we at least throw the ball away and keep the ball where it is.”
He’ll have to make quicker decisions and get rid of the ball much quicker if he’s to survive and have any chance of starting a full 16-game slate, something only accomplished once by a Cleveland QB – Tim Couch in 2001 – since the team returned to the league.
“That was one game,” Jackson said. “He has to continue to grow and get better and continue to show improvement and progress week in and week out, but we played against a good football team yesterday. That wasn’t somebody that just walked in and played against us. That was the Pittsburgh Steelers, I thought he represented himself well. Now, he just has to continue to get better.”
Sure, Kizer wasn’t perfect and the Browns lost again, but it appears Kizer gave the franchise – and it’s long-suffering fans – something just as important as a W.