BEREA, Ohio — DeShone Kizer has strong-armed his way into a starting job.
The rookie quarterback will start Cleveland’s exhibition at Tampa Bay on Saturday, and unless he flops or gets hurt, Kizer will start the Browns’ Sept. 10 season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Coach Hue Jackson elected to go with Kizer, a second-round pick from Notre Dame, over veterans Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler. Kizer has been the most consistent of the three during training camp and led the Browns to three touchdowns during his two exhibition appearances.
Before practice on Wednesday, Kizer said he’s determined to make the most of the opportunity.
“This is awesome,” he said. “Obviously another step in this process that we’ve been talking about for the last couple months now. I obviously know there’s a lot of responsibility that comes along with starting the game as far as preparation goes throughout the league, as far as the responsibilities that happen off the field in representing this team the right way.
“As awesome as it is, it just means I have to work harder and try to do whatever I can to continue to have success out on the field and hold onto this position as tight as I can.”
Jackson, who went 1-15 in his first season with Cleveland, said he informed the QBs that Kizer would start this week in what is considered a dress rehearsal for the regular season.
“He has made a lot of progress by investing the time necessary to learn our offense, working hard to improve on his fundamentals while also effectively moving the offense in preseason games,” Jackson said. “Development is so important for a young quarterback, this is the next step he needs to take and he deserves this opportunity. We are very excited about seeing DeShone in the role of starter for this week, as he is certainly positioning himself well to earn the starting job heading into the regular season.”
Unless he stumbles against the Buccaneers, Kizer will be the 27th different quarterback to start for the Browns since 1999 — and fourth Week 1 starter in the past four years.
Showing off a rocket arm and maturity beyond his years, the 21-year-old has shown no signs of being intimidated by the jump to the pros after making 23 starts in two seasons for the Fighting Irish.
Jackson has been taking it slow with Kizer, who began camp at No. 3 on the depth chart, but is now comfortable enough with him to put him in charge of Cleveland’s offense.
The Browns intend to run the ball more this season, and an aggressive defense should help take some of the pressure off Kizer.
Jackson could have taken the safe route and gone with Osweiler, who went 8-6 as a starter for Houston last season. But Cleveland’s offense has sputtered with Osweiler on the field — zero points in six preseason drives — while Kizer has delivered bigger plays, including two long passes while leading the Browns to a comeback win in his preseason debut against New Orleans.
Kizer has completed 19 of 31 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown in two exhibition games. He’s been sacked five times but also showed some elusiveness with eight rushes for 47 yards, including a 1-yard TD.
Osweiler had an obvious edge because of his experience, but his inability to move the ball on Monday against the New York Giants was costly. He feels Jackson gave him “a fair shot” to win the job, but that didn’t ease his disappointment.
“Every single player that’s here today at this practice facility would tell you their aspirations are to be a starter and to help their team win football games,” he said. “That’s why we all show up to training camp. So I’m certainly disappointed that I’m not starting the Tampa Bay game, but by no means does that mean that’s the end of the season or the end of that. It’s one football game right now.”
The 26-year-old was not in Cleveland’s long-term plans when they acquired him in March for a 2018 second-round pick, and it’s possible the Browns will shop him around again.
Kessler opened camp as the incumbent starter, but despite being in better shape and building arm strength during the offseason, he was unable to hold off a rookie or Osweiler, who didn’t seem to have much of a future in Cleveland when he was acquired in a trade.