CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns have an abundance of young players on their roster, and the quarterback position is no exception, as the most tenured player, Brock Osweiler, has made just 21 starts over his five-year NFL career.
And that youth is precisely why the Browns elected to play rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer for the entire second half of Thursday’s preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints at FirstEnergy Stadium, where the former Notre Dame signal-caller engineered a game-winning drive in the final two minutes of the 20-14 victory.
“I wanted to see DeShone play,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “I thought I needed to put him out there in the fire. I think it was a great experience for him. There is a lot for him to learn from, but there was a lot of good things that he did, and he stood in there and made some plays with his arm.”
PHOTOS: DeShone Kizer makes NFL debut with Cleveland Browns
On his second possession of the game, Kizer engineered a five-play, 60-yard drive in less than three minutes, and the offense punctuated the possession with a one-yard touchdown carry from running back Terrence Magee.
After a kickoff out of bounds gave the Browns a first and 10 from their own 40-yard line, Kizer tested the Saints deep and completed a 52-yard pass to wide receiver Richard Mullaney that moved the ball from the Cleveland 47-yard line to the New Orleans one.
On the next drive, Kizer and the Browns faced a fourth and two, and instead of trying for the first down, the rookie saw something in the defense and threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to second-year wide receiver Jordan Payton, which gave the Browns a six-point lead with 1:52 to play in the fourth quarter.
“I gave him two plays,” Jackson recalled. “I gave him two plays, and I thought in that moment, he handled that extremely well. He had an opportunity to do a couple of things and he did the right thing based on our conversation. Payton converted the route, which he should have, and DeShone found him for the win.”
Overall, Kizer completed 11 of his 18 passes for 184 yards and a 45-yard touchdown in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter on the way to leading the Browns to the come-from-behind victory over the Saints.
But while fans continue to heap praise on Kizer for his efforts against the Saints, Jackson cautioned that plenty of work still has to be done as training camp continues.
“He will be the first to tell you, there are so many other things to clean up,” Jackson said. “He probably would tell you it should have been two more long balls for big plays. He has a lot of work to do. He has to keep growing, and he has to keep working, but a night like tonight, for a young player as you mentioned, will give him confidence.
“The ears really get open now -- keep listening to the coaches and great things happen. Hopefully, he will keep working. I am sure he will, just like the rest of our quarterbacks and the rest of our football team. We just have to continue to grow and get better.”