BEREA — They’ve come and gone, some faster than others.
Rookies, free agents, recycled veterans and career backups all have had their shot starting at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns over the past 18 seasons. From Tim Couch to Jeff Garcia to Derek Anderson to Brady Quinn to Colt McCoy to Johnny Manziel … there have been 26 QBs since 1999. Not one has stayed around long enough to change the franchise’s fortunes.
Coach Hue Jackson believes rookie DeShone Kizer — No. 27 — could be the one.
In fact, he’s betting on it.
“We’re going to make this happen,” Jackson said Monday, less than 24 hours after announcing Kizer as his starter for 2017. “We’re going to work through this because I think he’s talented. I think this guy has the right stuff. If I’m worth my salt as a coach, I will get it out of him, and if he’s willing to do the work, he’ll rise to the occasion, and I think he will.”
The Browns are all in with Kizer, who was consistent in practice and made more big plays in the exhibitions to beat out veterans Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler. The 21-year-old will start Cleveland’s opener on Sept. 10 against Pittsburgh, and Jackson promised he’ll stick with the former Notre Dame starter as long as necessary.
Jackson, who went 1-15 in his first season with Cleveland, bristled when asked if he had any apprehension playing a rookie quarterback.
“Why?” he said. “I’ve been down this road before. I didn’t make a decision to make him the quarterback because I had fear in it or not know how it’s going to unfold. I have a vision for it. It might not go that way. If it does, great. If it doesn’t, we keep working through it.”
Jackson has extensive experience with quarterbacks and said his choice of Kizer was easier than others he’s made. Critics have said Kizer isn’t ready, but Jackson isn’t listening.
“I think the guy can do it,” he said. “Will it be hard? Yeah, it’s going to be hard. It’s going to take a lot of work on his part, my part, our staff’s part, the rest of the team because everybody’s involved in this. It’s not just me and him. Everybody’s got to do their part in order for this young man to have success.
“But I think we all get it. I think his teammates get it. I think he gets it. I think the coaching staff does. So we’ve got to make this right.”
Kizer will be the second rookie in Cleveland’s expansion era to start Week 1. The other to start an opener was 28-year-old Brandon Weeden, who famously got trapped under a giant American flag as he was warming up on the field before his first game.
Kizer made his first exhibition start Saturday at Tampa Bay, and while he had some struggles and underwhelming statistics — 6 of 18 for 93 yards, an interception and no touchdowns — Jackson was impressed with his poise and how he embraced the opportunity.
After he was told he’d won the starting job, Kizer said he spoke with some excited family members.
“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 home in northern Ohio, this couldn’t go any better right now.”
Kizer grew up in Toledo and mostly followed the Philadelphia Eagles because his father, Derek, was a fan of the team. But Kizer also kept an eye on the Browns and their quarterback carousel. He may not be able to recite the names of his predecessors, but Kizer is aware of Cleveland’s miserable quarterbacking history.
“Enough to know that there’s been quite a few,” said Kizer, who will be the 15th QB to start an opener for Cleveland since the team’s rebirth. “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.”