DeShone Kizer was feeling good about himself Tuesday. He had played all four quarters in the loss to the Vikings on Sunday in London and didn’t commit a turnover for the first time in seven NFL starts.
“It was awesome,” he said of not getting benched for the first time in almost a month. “You get to get into a fourth-quarter situation in which you have some confidence and have some momentum and you know you have an opportunity to win.
“No, I am not looking over my shoulder. I think this position is mine and it is about going out there and performing.”
He had no idea.
As the rookie quarterback talked in the locker room, the front office and coach Hue Jackson were a floor above in Browns headquarters trying to replace him with Bengals backup AJ McCarron. The Browns agreed to send second- and third-round picks to Cincinnati for McCarron, who’s made four starts since being drafted in the fifth round in 2014.
He’s familiar with Jackson’s system from their time together with the Bengals and may have given Jackson the chance to better execute his offense and pick up some victories over the second half of the season. The Browns are 0-8, 1-23 in the last two years, and job security at every level of the organization seems tenuous.
Of course, the trade fell through when the proper paperwork didn’t reach the league office in time. The Browns believe they did everything right but there was a mix-up with the Bengals and not enough time to correct it because they had waited until the last minute to agree on terms. An appeal to the league was denied.
That leaves McCarron as the backup to Andy Dalton with the Bengals.
Where does it leave Kizer?
Not only had Jackson yanked him twice in the middle of close losses and benched him for the entire Texans game, he tried to take away his starting job halfway through his first season. All after calling Kizer, the No. 52 pick out of Notre Dame, the future of the franchise and saying he’d stick with him through good times and bad.
Without knowing what was transpiring in the offices above, Kizer was asked if he felt he had the support of the coaches and front office.
“Yeah, after going out there and attacking the big issue of not turning the ball over, I do feel pretty confident in my position,” he said. “Once again, it is about wins. If I can go out there and do my job to the best of my ability and hopefully put our team in a winning position, then I will feel a whole lot better about it.”
He will get that chance, but certainly not under ideal circumstances. When he returns from the bye — he was headed home to Toledo and to watch Notre Dame — he’ll have to accept he wasn’t the first choice to finish the season as the starter and will be asked about the lack of confidence and support from his bosses.
It will be another challenge for Kizer, 21, who struggled in his last year in South Bend as Notre Dame went 4-8. He remains winless in the NFL and is at the bottom of the league stats with 11 interceptions (tied with Carolina’s Cam Newton), a 52.1 completion percentage and 51.1 rating.
“I have won since I have been in peewee football throughout high school with state championships and division championships in every sport that I have played,” he said. “Once you take a step back from the game — I think this will be an awesome opportunity during this bye week to do so — you can feel yourself going away from that mentality, that dog that you have when you are winning. I need to get back to having that dog.”
He said he’s had multiple conversations with rookie safety Jabrill Peppers about being on an 0-8 team and not getting sidetracked.
“Sometimes you allow some outside elements to pull away from the drive that you have always had and recently I have picked that back up,” Kizer said. “After being benched and seeing some things from the sideline and having some pressure on me, I have been able now to go back now to that winner mentality that I have always had. Now, it is about going out there and performing and getting back to winning the way I know I can.”
The Browns knew there would be rough spots with Kizer and insist the decision to draft him was about the long term. He’s still 6-foot-4 and 233 pounds with a big arm and athleticism.
But quarterbacks get chewed up and spit out in Cleveland, and his replacement could be added in free agency or at the top of the draft. It’s worth noting, however, that some young quarterbacks do improve after early struggles.
Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick of the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, went 0-7 as a rookie with a 54.6 completion percentage, 1,089 yards, five touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 63.6 rating. He’s 5-2 this year with a 59.9 completion percentage, 1,719 yards, nine touchdowns, four interceptions and a 90.3 rating.
“Since Day 1, we have known that this was going to be a process,” Kizer said. “I wasn’t going to come in and walk into a position where I was going to be one of the better quarterbacks in the league. It was going to take a little bit for me to develop into that.
“It wasn’t a specific timeline on that. Whether it be one, two, three years — a lot of people want to put that timeline on things — but for me, what I do like is that I truly feel like I am a better quarterback today than I was three weeks ago. That is a great feeling. I feel more comfortable, I feel as if I belong in this league, and I am going to be able to hang onto this position for a while if I can continue to perform the way I want to.”
The failed trade gives him a chance.