Sunday, August 27, 2017

It's official . . . Kizer is now THE MAN

There now is absolutely no question as to who the Browns’ starting quarterback is – and should be – in the season-opening game on Sept. 10 at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“This is not just for the moment,” coach Hue Jackson told reporters when he informed the Cleveland media via conference call Sunday that DeShone Kizer becomes the 27th different starting quarterback for the Browns since 1999. “We’re going to get with DeShone . . . ride with him through it all.”

Kizer’s elevation to the top spot comes with a caveat from his coach. “It’s not over with yet,” he said. “He still has to earn the right to be the starting quarterback for this team week in and week out.”

All of which means it is entirely possible Jackson will attach a leash to Kizer in an effort to gain as much consistency as possible from him on a game-by-game basis. With a veteran like Brock Osweiler champing at the bit on the bench, it will be interesting to see how far Jackson’s patience stretches.

Based solely on his performance in the team’s three exhibition games this season, Kizer deserves to get the starting nod. Not because he won it. It’s because no else stepped up and played as though he wanted it. It’s almost as though the rookie won the job by default.

This is not meant to disparage his performance, which has been nothing to get overly excited about. On the other hand, disparaging the work of Osweiler and Cody Kessler, both of whom entered training camp ahead of Kizer on the depth chart, is much more warranted.

Kizer’s accomplishments thus far – he is completing only 51% of his passes – will not blow anyone away, but they far and away exceed the disappointing play of Osweiler and Kessler. He made Jackson’s choice easy for the opener.

It also tells you the club, for the umpteenth time since 1999, enters a new season hopeful, at best, at the most important position on the team. A rookie backed up by mediocre veterans is not exactly the prescription for being sanguine.

Unless Kizer startles everyone in the National Football League universe and puts up a season as no Cleveland quarterback has since Bernie Kosar, Browns fans will have to settle once again for anything from abject failure to mediocrity.

But there is no question Kizer’s modest success thus far – he probably will not play in the final exhibition game Thursday night in Chicago against the Bears – has energized the Browns’ fan base.

The kid from Toledo, who has been the quarterback in the game for 26 of the Browns’ 43 points so far, has not really looked awful. He has not looked as though he doesn’t belong on the same field as everyone else. There is something about him that ignites that hope.

Yes, he is a raw rookie. And yes, we really don’t know what he will do when the money games begin. That’s the intrigue that excites some fans and concerns others.

The anticipation of how Kizer performs against the Steelers’ defense is what energizes the fans in the first group. Based on his seemingly unflappable nature, they want to believe he can carry his modest exhibition success into the regular season.

Then there are those skeptics who won’t join that crowd until they see how he handles the Steelers’ sophisticated defense. It plays out quite differently in the regular season.

Judging from the way Kizer played the first half with the ones in the 13-9 victory Saturday night in Tampa against the Buccaneers, there should at least some reason to be concerned.

His 6-of-18, 93-yard, one interception performance produced only three points in five possessions and was uneven. Four of his six completions converted third downs, however, included easily his best throw of the evening.

On third-and-4 at the Cleveland 44 on the Browns' first possession of the game, Kizer took the snap in the shotgun formation. He failed to spot an open receiver, avoided a defender and rolled left to buy some time to throw.

He spotted Corey Coleman streaking down the left side and dropped a picture perfect pass into his hands as beautifully as if he walked up the wide receiver and handed it to him. Coleman was double covered on the play, which covered 32 yards and set up a Cody Parkey field goal.

He was sabotaged by a few dropped passes and a fumble by his running back deep in Bucs territory, but was decisive and confident in running the offense for the most part.

Kizer definitely is feeling more comfortable when he lines up under center. His footwork when he pulls away with the snap is significantly better than it was as recently as a month ago.

His deep drops on pass plays have smoothed out and he seems to understand the rhythm necessary to make these plays successful. For someone who has never played under center before, his ball-handling is surprisingly smooth.

It is difficult to change when you have been playing in shotgun or pistol formations your entire career, but he seems to have made a successful transition, especially with his play fakes. It proves the more you practice something that is foreign, the easier and more natural it becomes.

Half of Kizer’s 32 snaps (all 16 were in the first three series) in the first half against Tampa Bay were taken under center and produced 164 total yards. But Jackson dialed up six straight plays from the shotgun in the last two series of the half, gaining just 11 yards and ending in three-and-outs.

Kizer also didn’t get flustered when two of his early drives began at the 3 and the 1, the first of which resulted in the Parkey field goal; the second was stopped by a pick on a deflected pass after nine plays. A third started at the Cleveland 9 ended after three plays.

Right now, though, it’s way too early to say Kizer has the ”it” factor. But it certainly is not too early to find out.

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