BEREA — DeShone Kizer has a run game ranked 27th in the NFL. His receiving corps struggles to get open, drops way too many passes when it does and has another new member this week. He’s always trailing, usually by double digits as early as the second quarter.
Kizer, the 21-year-old rookie quarterback, has put it all on his shoulders as he tries to deliver the Browns from their 0-4 start and decade of doldrums.
“Absolutely. That is my job,” he said. “They brought me here to play quarterback, and they deemed me the starting quarterback Week 1. It is on me to make sure that I am doing whatever I can to help my teammates around me develop, as well as developing myself.”
If Kizer is looking to pile on a little more junk — he could be Joe Pesci from “My Cousin Vinny” in the scene on the porch — all he has to do is look at his stat sheet. He’s last in the NFL in completion percentage (51.4), interceptions (eight), rating (50.9) and third-down rating (27.4) and 31st in average gain (5.38 yards).
“When you are 0-4 and statistically one of the worst quarterbacks out there right now, you have to figure out where you are headed,” he said Wednesday. “What is the path right now? What is the message? For me, it is about doing whatever I can to grow in whatever Coach decides needs to be the right room for growth for that week.”
The last couple of games the focus was on not holding the ball too long and not taking sacks.
“We made progress in that,” Kizer said. “This week, it is about putting the ball in playmakers hands and trying to go score points so we can go win a game.
“Obviously, this is going to be a process. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I am looking forward to attacking this consistently and taking on those small projects until it becomes something that we really want it to be.”
One saving grace is that Kizer said he’s never been obsessed with his stats. Any iota of ignorance can be a bit of bliss.
“You can evaluate the game in so many different ways,” he said. “Sometimes the stats tell a different story than what is actually happening. For the situation I am in right now in terms of my growth and my development, I know that there is specific things that I look for each week, and I want to attack those. Sometimes the stats might lean you away from the things that we are actually growing in.”
Coach Hue Jackson wants Kizer to complete more passes but doesn’t focus on the stats.
“We all know that a quarterback is not just measured by numbers, it is by winning,” Jackson said. “It is not about completion percentage. It is about running our offense, managing our offense and taking care of the football.”
Jets quarterback Josh McCown, who played for the Browns the last two years, said it’s important for Kizer not to burden himself with the weight of the team.
“As a quarterback, sometimes you can feel attached to anything that doesn’t go right and you have to remember that you are your own entity as far as just trying to grow and get better as a player,” McCown said. “That is the main focus for him. He just has to be focused on growing and improving himself.”
The numbers may be down, but Kizer insists his confidence is still up. He said he’s accepted Jackson as his mentor, which makes up for the lack of a veteran teammate at the position.
“The conversations that we have are more on a personal level where we can share thoughts and create dialogue,” Kizer said. “It is not just coach talking down to a player.”
He wouldn’t share names but said he also has relationships with guys who’ve played in the league and relies on them for guidance. Receiver Ricardo Louis said he’s never seen Kizer buckle under the immense pressure.
“I don’t see any signs of him losing any kind of confidence,” Louis said. “He has tremendous confidence in himself and his ability and in his team.”
Jackson said Kizer played “lights out” and his best game of the year Sunday in the 31-7 loss to the Bengals. Kizer went 16-for-34 for 118 yards, an interception off Kenny Britt’s shoulder and a 43.5 rating.
“He has truly, truly gotten better over the last four weeks,” Jackson said.
Kizer understands baby steps are necessary to become the quarterback he wants to be but said they can’t obscure the larger goal.
“The personal growth has to be done on my own outside of this. In the quiet hours,” he said. “In here, it is about doing whatever we can to win games, and that is about the stuff that happens out on the field and the development that I need to continue to have in order to be a good enough quarterback to win games in this league.”
Jackson said Kizer must be prepared to win when the team’s ready for its breakthrough — whenever that is. Rookie safety Jabrill Peppers said the team has Kizer’s back.
“We both know we haven’t been playing the way we need to be playing to help this team win ballgames,” Peppers said. “But you can’t ever waver. I tell him, ‘We’re going to ride with you regardless.’”