BEREA — Coach Hue Jackson watched the film of the opening 21-18 loss to the Steelers, analyzed the performance of rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer and dared to drop the four-letter word that’s been absent from Browns headquarters.
“This young man gives us hope,” Jackson said Monday.
Kizer was the 27th quarterback to start for the Browns since 1999. There’s been optimism with others, and Jackson quickly pointed out it was only one game.
But he was even more encouraged than after watching from the sideline as Kizer, 21, went 20-for-30 for 222 yards, a touchdown, an interception and an 85.7 rating.
“He gives you an opportunity to make plays,” Jackson said. “Here we are in the fourth quarter with a chance to win the game late in the game, and that’s because of some plays he made.
“So that’s what you expect out of your quarterback, and we’re talking about a young rookie quarterback who’s one of the youngest players in the league at that position. So that’s exciting for me. I think it’s exciting for our organization. He’s got to continue to grow and get better and continue to show improvement and progress week in and week out.”
Kizer was asked what Jackson’s high praise means.
“That I’m doing my job,” he said. “That everything that he is asking me to do, I’m either working towards it or doing it.”
Kizer showed off his big right arm on a number of throws against the Steelers. He hit receiver Corey Coleman on a 23-yard back-shoulder throw, and receiver Ricardo Louis for a 29-yard gain down the seam that set up the fourth-quarter touchdown.
He also scored on a 1-yard sneak then did his signature celebration leap.
“Kicking the heels — something that I did at Notre Dame that I’m trying to bring over to the NFL now,” he said.
Just as impressive as the good plays were the intangibles on display. He was composed despite being sacked seven times, efficiently operated the no-huddle offense and met Jackson’s high standards for seeing the field, as he came to the sideline with the information Jackson requires his quarterback to relay.
“And then just watching him encourage the defensive players,” Jackson said. “The quarterback has got to do a great job in all three phases. Not just offense. He runs the offense, but the defense plays for him, the special teams units play for him. And that’s what you’ve got to have. They gotta believe that if we can get this guy back the ball he’s gonna make plays for us and give us a chance to win.”
Jackson said Kizer’s in the process of taking on that role and dealing with the immense pressure of being an NFL starting quarterback.
Kizer isn’t blinking.
“It is awesome. This is my dream job,” he said. “I have understood the responsibilities that NFL quarterbacks have since high school when everyone kind of tells you all of the different things that you have to do and how there is always going to be another step and how there is always going to be a bigger task at hand in front of you.
“Now that I am here, having a guy like Coach Jackson, who is going to guide me along the way and tell me all of the things that need to be done for us to have a successful locker room, I am taking it all head-on.”
Kizer was standing Sunday and encouraging the defense to get a fourth-quarter stop and give him a chance to complete the comeback and finish off the upset.
“When you have a defense playing as well as ours, it is easy to cheer for them,” he said. “I will continue to cheer those guys on, and they are going to keep doing a good job of getting the ball back to the offense. Now, it is time for us to go out and put up as many points as we can.”
Kizer again took the blame for the sacks and said he’s got to get rid of the ball faster, either on a dump-off to the running back or a throwaway out of bounds. Jackson said the coaches will “push him through it” and emphasize it in practice.
“It needs to happen fast,” Kizer said. “That changes the game. Those sacks are moving us out of field goal range. Those sacks are moving us to third-and-extra-long.”
“He sees it,” Jackson said. “So I think he’ll get to it and make those changes quicker.”
Kizer wasn’t satisfied with his strong debut. He said he didn’t pay attention to his many text messages, didn’t focus on the good throws and was already worrying about Baltimore, which blanked the Bengals 20-0 on the road.
“Quite frankly, we are in a position now where I am just trying to learn from my mistakes more than being excited about all of the good ones,” he said, pointing to inadequate ball placement on some throws. “There is a lot of room for improvement.”
And a lot of reason for optimism.
“He’s our starter. He’s a great competitor. He’s a great quarterback. He’s a smart quarterback,” Louis said. “I think with him learning and continuing to play more and getting different looks and getting the coaching that he’s getting, the leadership on this team, I think we can accomplish a lot with him.”