BEREA: DeShone Kizer grew up in Toledo following the Philadelphia Eagles because the rookie’s father, Derek, was a fan of the team.
But Kizer is familiar with the Browns, their history and his place in it as the franchise’s 27th starting quarterback since 1999.
“I grew up in a town in which everyone is probably 50-50 divided between the [Detroit] Lions and the Browns. That split allowed me to learn quite a bit about this organization and obviously the question marks that have always been at quarterback,” Kizer said Monday, less than 24 hours after coach Hue Jackson named him the starter for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“You see that list grow and grow and grow and hear the people and the chatter throughout my whole community. So now to be put on that list and hopefully end that list will be an awesome, awesome situation for me.
“Obviously, winning is something we want to do here, and we haven’t been able to do for quite a few years now. So to be a start of hopefully that tradition that we want to have here would be an honor.”
Kizer knows about the infamous jersey on which a Cleveland advertising agency listed the team’s starting quarterbacks.
“Enough to know that there’s been quite a few,” said Kizer, who will be the 15th quarterback to start an opener for the Browns since their rebirth and just the second rookie quarterback to start for them in Week 1 during the expansion era. “Due to injury and due to some [lack of] success on the field, they haven’t been able to find their guy. And that’s all I need to know to understand that I need to go out there and work hard every day to stop that tradition here.”
Kizer, 21, insisted he’s undaunted by the previous 26 starting quarterbacks failing to become a long-term answer.
“It’s 2017, and I bet you [when] 10 of those 26 [were playing], I wasn’t even considering playing in the NFL at the time,” Kizer said. “So that is way behind us. And obviously the vibes out here at practice are completely different than what they’ve been in the past. We have a new coaching staff. We’ve been through new owners in that time. And that in itself should show you that there’s some things changing here.”
Ready to start?
Still, fans and media are asking whether Kizer is ready to start right away to begin his NFL career. Some of them are flat-out saying he’s being thrown into the fire too soon for his own good and fear is he’ll lose confidence if he stumbles out of the gate.
“Until I’m out there, everyone’s going to have a right to an opinion,” Kizer said, “and if that’s their opinion, then we’ll see Week 1.”
Many of those opinions are fueled by what Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said on SiriusXM Radio before the Browns drafted Kizer in the second round April 28.
Kelly explained he thought Kizer should have stayed in school for another season because “he needs more football, he needs more time to grow in so many areas, not just on the field, but off the field.”
Then Jackson and quarterbacks coach David Lee insisted throughout training camp Kizer wasn’t ready to start because he had so much to learn about their offense. They propped up Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler as starters until they faltered, and Kizer won the job in the end.
Kizer believes he’s ready to play because of the strides he’s made since joining the Browns.
“This is a situation in which I was able to step out here with a great coaching staff, an awesome team around me and develop my game to become a better football player,” he said. “I can truly say in this last four months that I feel very confident in the fact that I have become a lot better and my development is headed in the right direction.”
Kizer credits Jackson for much of his improvement and hopes they last as a quarterback-coach tandem “for 10, 15 years.” Jackson said he’s committed to sticking with Kizer through the inevitable rookie growing pains he’ll experience to find out whether he can solve the Browns’ quarterback quandary.
“When you have a coach who truly believes in you and obviously has put a lot of time and effort into my development, to have him by my side is an awesome experience,” Kizer said. “Obviously, we know that in this sport, the quarterback-head coach relationship can go a long ways and you see a lot of the successful teams have great quarterback-head coach relationships.
“He is a straightforward guy, and that’s how I like it. There’s no room for sugarcoating in this league, and since we’ve met, it’s been all about just creating a dialogue between myself and him and what I need some improvement on and what he thinks I need improvement on. And that relationship that we have created has only allowed me to go out there and have the success I’ve had.”
Kizer’s progression led Jackson to name him the starter for the third preseason game this past Saturday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kizer played the first half and went 6-of-18 passing for 93 yards with an interception and a rating of 28.2. Poor field position and dropped passes made those statistics deceptive, and Jackson thought Kizer played well enough to earn the job.
“By the end of that first half a couple days ago against Tampa, I truly felt as if I was in control of the offense and truly had the confidence needed to go out there and lead this team into position to win games,” Kizer said.
His teammates are on board.
“He’s real poised for him to be so young,” wide receiver Corey Coleman said. “[He shows] tremendous leadership, the way he carries himself as a true professional and a quarterback. That’s my guy. I’m happy for him.”
After Jackson announced his starter Sunday, Kizer talked to some of his family.
“I didn’t talk to my mom as much as she would like,” he said. “Got a few texts. Obviously, there’s a lot of people out there supporting me through all of this. This has been an awesome ride and obviously being back home in northern Ohio, this couldn’t go any better right now.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.