Sunday, May 14, 2017

Don’t bet on Kessler

Here we are on May 14 and Browns coach Hue Jackson all but anoints Cody Kessler as his starting quarterback for the 2017 season.

With less than four months between now and the season opener at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jackson appears to have made up his mind. Plenty can happen in those four months and yet, Jackson can’t help himself.

“Obviously, Cody will start this out,” Jackson said Saturday. “He deserves the opportunity to.”

And then the coach temporarily sidetracked himself, declaring that “this thing is open, it really is” before adding it’s Kessler job to lose. “They’ve got to take it away from him.”

This is not the time of the year teams reveal their depth charts. It is the time when coaches keep the media guessing on who starts, especially since many of the final decisions won’t be made until the week leading up to the opening game. No need to make declarations now. Let it all play out.

Why the rush? Why put unnecessary pressure on those involved in the quarterback competition? Is there any question the quarterbacks room this season – at least based on those currently on the roster – will be filled with mediocrity?

How can anyone get excited about Brock Osweiler, a journeyman (at the tender age of 26) who might have peaked in Denver a couple of seasons ago?

Or Kessler, who rang up zero victories in eight attempts in his rookie season? Granted it was behind arguably the worst offensive line in the National Football League, a unit that can’t help but be better this season.

Or Kevin Hogan, whose best shot is the practice squad?

Or DeShone Kizer, a wet-behind-the-ears flamethrower who will be taking baby steps well into his rookie season?

This is what Jackson and quarterbacks coach David Lee – especially Lee – face as they attempt to right an offense that was abysmally awful last season. Then it was Robert Griffin III, Kessler, Josh McCown, Charlie Whitehurst, Hogan and, for a few plays, the departed Terrelle Pryor.

It was a gallery of mediocrity at the most important position on the team that could not prevent, although they had plenty of help from the defense, the embarrassing 1-15 record.

And there is no evidence that would lead one to believe this season will be any better, even though Jackson generously heaps praise on Kessler.

“Cody has done a great job and that’s the reason I brought up his name first,” he told the media. “He’s really improved. He’s worked his tail off and deserves the right and opportunity to walk in this building and walk out there first."

Opportunity? No argument there. Right? Well, that’s an entirely different matter. Nothing Kessler did last season gives him the right to be designated the leader in the clubhouse. Not even “earned” works here.

“They’ve got to take (the starting job) from him. . . ." Jackson said. "They better take it from him because I know him and he’s not going to give it up.” Wow, a pep talk even before the OTAs, mandatory minicamp and training camp this summer.

At the same time he boosted Kessler, Jackson allowed there would be competition. “They’ll all get reps,” he said, including Kizer. “. . . I’ve been through this before a few times, so we’ll get these guys reps and (Kizer) has to take some because I’ve got to continue to evaluate him.”

For what it’s worth (take your best shot, I’ve got thick skin), I believe Osweiler (assuming he is still with the club) will take the job from Kessler and wind up under center against the Steelers in the opener after all this bullroar quiets down.

Why? Simply because he is the most experienced quarterback in the room (the only one to record an NFL victory). I can’t imagine the Browns will start the season with a quarterbacks room with no victories.

And, most important, because he gives the Browns the best shot at winning. 

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