CLEVELAND -- Conventional wisdom might say that starting a rookie quarterback in the National Football League with three divisional games over the first four weeks of the regular season could be a recipe for disaster.
But in recent years, the Cleveland Browns have been anything but conventional, and are confident in their decision to start DeShone Kizer in the regular-season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday, September 10.
“It is very exciting,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said in a conference call with the Cleveland media. “When we drafted this young man, there was a purpose in drafting him. We thought that he had exactly what we were looking for.
“As we kept diving into this process of spending time with him and making him our draft pick and from the first conversation I had with him up through now, it has been about how we can get him to be the best that he can be.”
In his two years as a starter at the University of Notre Dame, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Kizer completed 423 of his 696 attempts for 5,809 yards and 47 touchdowns against 19 interceptions.
Pressed into service because of an injury to Malik Zaire during the 2015 season, Kizer completed 211 of his 335 attempts for 2,884 yards and 21 touchdowns against 10 interceptions over 13 games with the Fighting Irish.
On the way to a 4-8 record during the 2016 season, Kizer battled through coaching issues to complete 212 of his 361 attempts for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns against nine interceptions despite being sacked 25 times behind the Fighting Irish’s struggling offensive line.
“I think we all dove into this the right way to go find a guy who hopefully, can solve our quarterback issue,” Jackson said. “Again, it is not over with yet.
“This guy has been named the starter, but he still has to earn the right to be the starting quarterback for this team, week in and week out, and I think he gets that, but he has the talent, he has the makeup and he has the things we are looking for. Now, we just have to go get him and push him onto that next level.”
Through the first three games of the preseason, Kizer completed 25 of his 49 attempts for 351 yards and one touchdown against two interceptions. Despite completing only 51 percent of his passes, Kizer averaged 7.2 yards per attempt, the best of all Browns quarterbacks this preseason.
Additionally, Kizer rushed for 47 yards and one touchdown on just eight carries, and used both his passing and rushing skills to engineer five scoring drives for the Browns.
“Anytime that you have a player who can win in different ways, I think it is important because obviously, he can win with his arm -- he has tremendous arm talent -- and then, he can win with his legs because he is athletic enough and he is a big guy,” Jackson said.
“He has the characteristics, as I mentioned earlier, that we covet. We have to continue to get him to use those at the best of his ability.”
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