CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns began their second season under the direction of coach Hue Jackson against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium Sunday, and again, did so as one of the youngest teams in the league.
But despite having 20 of his 53 players on the active roster with one year or less of NFL experience and starting in an early hole on a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown, the Brown fought their way back into the game and pushed the Steelers for 60 minutes before falling, 21-18, in front of the home fans.
“I think we are a better team than we were in the past,” Browns offensive lineman Joe Thomas said after the loss. “Even though we do have so many young guys with none or very little experience, I think they were able to overcome that in how they played.
“The type of people there are on this team, they play with resolve and composure. They don’t ride the roller coaster. A lot of guys are young, but they are steady. It seemed like a lot of guys who were out there played with a steadiness that you wouldn’t expect out of a young or a first or a second-year guy.”
PHOTOS: Cleveland Browns battle Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017 regular-season opener
Of the 53 players on the roster, 42 have been added since the Browns’ current front office of Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta assumed their roles in January of 2016, and 21 came aboard since the start of 2017.
Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer is one of those players, and he led the Browns on three scoring drives.
Kizer completed 20 of his 30 throws for 222 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a rushing score to his credit. Additionally, on five carries. Kizer finished with one rushing touchdown and 17 yards, which were second only to 33 yards from running back Isaiah Crowell.
“From my perspective, I thought he did a nice job in his first opportunity out there playing in the NFL,” Thomas said. “He showed composure. That is crucial for any NFL quarterback.
“In spite of having a tough start to the game, I thought he showed good resolve. He showed good composure just being able to come back from that. He made some nice throws down the stretch to get us back in the game. He got us within three points to have a chance to win.”
Despite his successes, Kizer was sacked seven times in his NFL regular-season debut. However, Thomas believes the internal clock every NFL quarterback has will get better with more time on the field.
“That’s what all rookie quarterbacks do. It’s the hardest part for a young quarterback to understand,” Thomas said. “In college, they sit back there and wait until someone gets open and you throw the guy the ball. In the NFL game, you throw the ball to a spot based on coverage.
“It’s just learning that. It’s got to be every time. Certainly, as a young player, the biggest mistake that they make across the board is they do the things the right way all during practice and when the big lights come on, they try to make the big play.”