CLEVELAND — DeShone Kizer’s time is coming. It’s just not here yet.
Kizer excited Cleveland fans and impressed his teammates with a strong performance in his NFL exhibition debut, but Browns coach Hue Jackson isn’t ready to name him his starting quarterback.
Unleashing his strong arm, Kizer completed two long passes, including a 45-yard touchdown with 1:52 left as he rallied the Browns to a 20-14 win over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night. Kizer played the entire second half and outshined veterans Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler, his competitors in the team’s three-way battle for the starting QB job.
But while the 21-year-old may appear ready to take over Cleveland’s offense, Jackson isn’t prepared to hand him the reins.
“It is too soon,” Jackson said Friday on a conference call. “I don’t feel very comfortable, and that is why I haven’t made that decision. There’s a process to all of this. And I think we’re just in the beginning phase of it for him. You want to do what’s best for your team and for your players, not just because people see a bomb that’s thrown down the field for 45 yards.
“There’s more to playing quarterback than just that. We’re not there yet.”
Jackson was pleased with Kizer’s overall performance, pointing out that he made plays “with his arm, made plays with his legs and stood in the pocket with poise.”
But Jackson, who has a long history of working with young QBs, said there were plenty of mistakes, some of them subtle and undetected by everyone but Kizer and his coach, that the second-round pick needs to correct.
The Browns don’t play again until Aug. 21, when they host the New York Giants. Jackson is in no rush to name a starter for that nationally televised game and indicated he may wait several more days before deciding who takes the field first.
Kizer could get the nod, or at least leapfrog Kessler and be the second QB to get snaps. He looked good against the Saints’ second- and third-stringers, and the Browns would like to get a look at him against stiffer competition.
Whatever Jackson decides to do, it’ll have little bearing on the long-term picture.
Kizer is the one the Browns are grooming to lead their franchise, and Jackson insists he won’t rush that process.
“It is the making of the quarterback,” he said. “It is the raising of a quarterback. That takes time. I don’t think you do things out of a knee-jerk reaction. You just don’t make decisions to make them. You kind of let things play themselves out, and they will. If a guy is good enough and deserving of an opportunity, trust me, we are not in a position to where we wouldn’t give the best player an opportunity.”
The Browns open the regular season on Sept. 10 against Pittsburgh and will play at Baltimore, at Indianapolis and host Cincinnati the next three weeks. That would be a daunting schedule for any quarterback, never mind one who only made 23 starts at Notre Dame.
Before deciding on his starter, Jackson is factoring in several variables, which include Cleveland’s plan to run the ball more and attack defensively. Those things can help a young quarterback and Jackson said he would have no reluctance to play a rookie.
“If that is the decision that we make, then I wouldn’t have any hesitation,” he said.
Jackson is still mapping out the practice schedule to possibly give Kizer more snaps against Cleveland’s starting defense to prepare him for the Giants.
There’s still work to do, and Jackson isn’t going to succumb to outside pressure to rush him.
“We are going to keep working at this thing, and we are going to continue to coach all of these guys to get better,” he said. “When it is the right time to make the decision that we feel is right to say, ‘This is the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns for 2017,’ then we will make that decision.”
NOTES: S Ibraheim Campbell is in the concussion protocol after suffering a head injury on the game’s second play. … Jackson said after watching film of T Cam Erving, “it wasn’t as bad as I think we all thought.” Erving was called for a false start and holding on consecutive plays in the first quarter. He started in place of LT Joe Thomas, but is battling Shon Coleman to start on the right side.