Friday, August 11, 2017

A glimmer of hope

It doesn’t take much for Browns fans to get excited about a quarterback whose professional football debut, albeit in an exhibition game, stirs the juices of hope.

After 26 starting quarterbacks in 18 frustrating seasons and just one playoff appearance and two winning seasons to be boastful of, along comes a lanky kid from Toledo to almost immediately capture their hearts.

DeShone Kizer’s where-did-that-come-from performance in the Browns’ come-from-behind 20-14 exhibition victory over the New Orleans Saints Thursday night at home seemed almost the stuff of fairy tales. Almost.

The kid from Toledo Central Catholic High School, who went to Notre Dame and has now come back to play on the northeastern side of the Buckeye state, gave fans a small sampling of what they can expect from his rocket arm and ability to make big plays.

Throwing for the winning touchdown with two minutes left in regulation – a perfect 45-yard throw to almost-forgotten wide receiver Jordan Payton on a fourth-and-two from just past midfield no less – delivered a sudden and severe emotional jolt through Browns Nation.

Is Kizer THE MAN? Is he the franchise quarterback this woebegone franchise (since 1999) yearned for, ached for, dreamed of? Has the savior finally arrived?

It wouldn’t be surprising that many Browns fans are thinking exactly that way right now. Glom onto the kind of performance Kizer put on and it’s not unreasonable to think that way. After all, he produced something the Browns did only once last season – win a game.

Then there are those – at the risk of spoiling Kizer’s 30-minute, 30-play (not including the final-play kneel down) evening that produced 172 total net yards and two touchdowns – who say, “Whoa there. Let’s not get too excited just yet about the kid.”

One side of the coin says he has the strong arm, which twice put points on the board. The other side of that coin says he did all that against a Saints defense that featured second-stringers and the rest of the bench.

The skeptics say, “Nice game, for sure. But let’s see how he does against the starters. Like if he starts the next exhibition a week from Monday night against the New York Giants in front of an ESPN national audience.”

Think coach Hue Jackson will start him against the Giants? Why not? Some important questions need to be answered as quickly as possible. And there is no better way to do so than in an exhibition game.

This is not meant to take anything away from what Kizer accomplished against the Saints. It’s meant to put things into perspective. Do not lose sight of the fact he is a National Football League infant just out of the college football womb.

His 11-of-18, 184-yard evening was not a mirage. He made two deep throws, the scoring heave to Payton on the button, and an earlier 52-yarder to Richard Mullaney that was slightly underthrown, but set up a touchdown. They were mindful of a young Bernie Kosar.

He showed fairly good pocket presence, although he was sacked three times, twice because he failed to detect a blitz. He showed some escapability on occasion with good footwork, buying time to connect on a throw.

He had 31 snaps in six series and was under center on only seven of them (including the kneel down) for a total of 13 net yards, the longest a 12-yard connection with wide receiver Rannell Hall. He was exclusively – and more comfortably – in shotgun formation for the final three series (except for the kneel down).

At the same time, he did not look uncomfortable under center. His footwork, while not perfect, still needs some work, especially in his dropbacks. That should smooth out with more repetitions.

Right now, though, he needs to work with the ones. And the only way he can do that is if his coach elevates him to starting status a week from Monday. Fans will be disappointed if Jackson doesn’t within the next few days reward Kizer with a start against the Giants.

That way, we’ll all find out whether the initial burst of hope in Browns Nation Thursday night was nothing more than an aberration, a momentary glimpse into the future that will fade.

In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with embracing and enjoying Kizer’s impressive entrance onto the NFL stage. There are 10 days until the next exhibition. Plenty of time for the skeptics to reserve judgment on the young quarterback as he takes his talent to the next level.

Kizer entered the NFL with the reputation – rightly or wrongly – of being a quarterback who can thrill you one moment and break your heart the next. We’ll find out soon enough how true that is.

(Notes to folo.)

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