CLEVELAND, Ohio — The day he was drafted, DeShone Kizer said he didn’t want to ‘sit around and watch from the sidelines.’
Now he won’t have to.
On Wednesday morning, Hue Jackson named Kizer, the No. 52 overall pick out of Notre Dame, the Browns’ starting quarterback over veteran Brock Osweiler — at least for the Tampa Bay game Saturday night.
Jackson said in a statement that Kizer starting the dress rehearsal game positions him well to start the season Sept. 10 against the Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium, where he’ll likely become the 27th quarterback to start a game for the Browns since 1999.
“This morning, I informed our quarterbacks that DeShone will be our starter for the third preseason game against Tampa,” Jackson said in a statement. “He has made a lot of progress by investing the time necessary to learn our offense, working hard to improve on his fundamentals while also effectively moving the offense in preseason games. Development is so important for a young quarterback, this is the next step he needs to take and he deserves this opportunity. We are very excited about seeing DeShone in the role of starter for this week, as he is certainly positioning himself well to earn the starting job heading into the regular season.
“Much like DeShone, Brock, Cody and Kevin have worked extremely hard throughout training camp and have helped create a very supportive environment in our quarterback room. They’ve pushed each other, worked well together and we expect that to continue.”
Kizer has been mentioned in the same breath as Steelers’ Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and now they’re likely set to go head to head.
“What I see in him is a big, strong, guy which is defined in this division by Ben (Roethlisberger) and by Joe Flacco and this kid’s in that mold,” Browns quarterbacks coach David Lee said in June. “He’s 6-4 3/4, he’s got a 10-inch hand, he’s smart, he can run, he can move. He’s not (Bills QB) Tyrod Taylor, but he can run and make plays. He’s got a great future.”
Jackson opted for Kizer’s superior skillset over Osweiler’s experience. The sixth-year pro has gone 13-8 over the past two seasons, and is the only quarterback on the roster to have won a game as a starter.
But Jackson has been grooming Kizer as his franchise quarterback from the start and saw enough of him in training camp and in the first two preseason games to take the training wheels off.
“If the guy is not ready, it’s hard to put a young man out there because of so many different reasons,” Jackson said last week. “This is the National Football League. It’s the best of the best. If you put those guys out there and they start getting sacked and hit early in the year and are not sure how to do things correctly, then I don’t think that helps them. I wouldn’t do that to any player on our football team.”
In his nine preseason series, Kizer showed off his cannon arm and his nimble legs. He put three touchdowns and one field goal on the board, which was Jackson’s main criteria for his QB: scoring the football. Among his TDs were a 45-yard pass to Jordan Payton and a 1-yard sneak.
“At the end of the day, the best decision for the team is who can put the ball in the end zone and score points because that’s what we’re going to need to do,” said Jackson. “If we can play good defense and score some points on offense, I really and truly believe in the National Football League that’s the formula for victories.”
Osweiler, on the other hand, failed to score on any of his six preseason drives. He displayed amazing command of the huddle, but it didn’t translate into points.
Kizer, meanwhile, dazzled the coaching staff with an amazing long ball, touch on the short passes and enough mobility to run the read option.
“He’s got a great long arm but he can throw corner routes, post routes, skinny post on a line,” said Lee, who’s coached Vinny Testaverde, Drew Bledsoe, Tony Romo and Chad Henne. “He doesn’t limit you. You can throw whatever you want to because he’s got such great arm talent.”
Lee knew Kizer was close to being ready when he watched him clear out a defender in the Saints game with a shoulder shrug and completed the third-down pass.
“That’s really, really good,” said Lee. “I hadn’t taught that yet because I don’t think he’s ready for it yet, but that’s how natural his instincts are and how good he is and can be.”
The Browns aren’t worried about shattering Kizer’s confidence despite the fact he’s only 21 and started only two seasons at Notre Dame.
“DeShone has enough confidence for the whole team. I’m not worried about his confidence. He’s good about taking instruction. He’s good about trying to do what we want him to do. Has it all happened yet? Not yet, but it’s coming and he’s thinking right proper.”
Kizer’s installation at least for the dress rehearsal comes just days after 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said he needs more time.
“Just because DeShone may be good in a few years doesn’t mean you want to throw him in before he’s ready,” said Thomas. “I’ve been on teams where they throw a guy in there because he’s a first-round pick or he’s the guy that the front office says well you’ve got to play this guy and it doesn’t always work out for the player or the team.”
But Kizer has put his faith in QB-expert Jackson right from the start.
“This is a process that has been preached to me from day one how this is going to go,” he said Thursday. “When they’re ready and I’m ready, I can trust in the fact that the coach is going to put me out there. I’m just trying to get better every day and allow Coach Jackson to make the calls.”
Jackson has spoken, and Kizer’s time has arrived.