BEREA, Ohio — Browns coach Hue Jackson has watched DeShone Kizer encounter more adversity this season than any other rookie quarterback he’s ever guided.
Kizer has been benched three times. He’s had to leave games with a migraine and bruised ribs. He had to hear about the organization trying to trade for Cincinnati Bengals backup quarterback AJ McCarron, only to fail to finalize the deal before the Oct. 31 deadline. He has gone 0-12 for the only team in NFL history to go 0-13 in consecutive seasons.
Now something else has been added to Kizer’s plate. The Browns are on track to own two top-10 picks in April’s draft, including the No. 1 overall selection, and it’s no secret that new general manager John Dorsey will probably use one of those choices on a quarterback. Last week, Jackson admitted the Browns will likely feel compelled to do so.
Kizer insisted Wednesday he’s not worrying about it.
“For me, it’s about making sure that every time I step out there and every rep I have that I’m proving exactly who I am because there’s going to be another good guy that comes in here,” Kizer said. “If there’s a new young face, that is what it is. If there’s an older guy, then I’m going to try to learn as much as I can from him and continue to develop my game and do whatever I can to focus on myself to develop into one of the better quarterbacks.
“With the abilities that I have, I know that if I can go out there and continue to get better and perfect the craft that I have, there should not be a worry [about the Browns drafting a QB]. There’s nothing I can’t do if I put my mind to it and continue to work on it.
“I’m just making sure that the front office here and the coaching staff here know exactly who I am every time I step out there and continue to see the developments I have been able to make. Hopefully I can turn that into some wins for us.”
Kizer, 21, will have a chance to develop with the Browns, if the way Dorsey and Jackson speak about the second-round pick from Notre Dame is any indication, but he obviously hasn’t proved he’s a long-term answer at the position, either.
In an interview with the team’s radio show, Dorsey revealed the Kansas City Chiefs — he was their GM for four years — hosted Kizer and six other quarterbacks before April’s draft. He said they ultimately ranked Kizer fourth in the 2017 QB class, presumably behind Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, whom the Chiefs drafted 10th overall.
“He played big-time football,” Dorsey said of Kizer on Cleveland Browns Daily. “He had the physical skill sets that you could see could transfer into the National Football League.
“He had a degree of maturity about his person that the normal 20-, 21-year-old person did not have. I thought he handled himself very well when we brought him in.
“He did a wonderful job answering the questions. When they actually sat him down and began to do the terminology, the technical aspects of the football, the coaching staff kind of walked away pretty impressed with him.”
Dorsey said Kizer played pretty well in Sunday’s 27-21 overtime loss to the Green Bay Backers if “you take four or five plays” away. Kizer completed 20-of-28 passes for 214 yards and a career-best three touchdowns with two interceptions, including what turned out to be the game-deciding pick in overtime, posting a career-high passer rating of 99.4.
Kizer said it was as close to a complete game as he’s played in the NFL, but added his turnovers were “unacceptable” and said the interception in OT “hurts quite a bit.”
Dorsey sat beside Kizer in the locker room after the game to encourage him while the Toledo native was visibly upset.
“You explain to him, I know that feeling,” said Dorsey, a former Packers linebacker. “If you’re going to be the quarterback of this team and project yourself as a leader, sometimes feel that pain, remember your mistakes and let’s try to correct those mistakes. And just remember, it’s not one person, it’s all of us in this together.”
Kizer emphasized his goal in the final three games is to finally turn in a complete performance from start to finish. It wouldn’t harm the case he hopes to build for himself.
“The only person stopping me from being one of the better quarterbacks in this league is myself,” said Kizer, who has a league-high 17 interceptions and five lost fumbles this season. “I just make sure that I’m locked in on my job every day and doing whatever I can to be better and allow [the Browns] to make the decisions that they make.
“Mr. Dorsey seems to be an awesome guy who has a lot of football knowledge. He has had a lot of success in the past. I’m looking forward to working with him and just proving every day exactly who I am.”
And Dorsey is eager to bolster the roster at the game’s most important position. He told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King he has watched six of Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield’s games.
“You’re darn right he’s a good quarterback, no matter how tall he is,” Dorsey said of Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner who’s listed as 6-foot-1 by his school.
With Dorsey familiarizing himself with the player personnel department he inherited and determining what staff changes need to be made to it, he assigned the Browns’ college scouts to watch as a group the top-12 QBs in the 2018 class, talk about them and rank them. Southern California’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Mayfield are the headliners.
“I wanted to get a feel for not only their ability to scout but also to see and feel what these QBs are,” Dorsey said. “There are some positive and legitimate prospects here that would make any Browns fan happy if we went in that direction.”
No matter who joins the quarterback room next year, Jackson said Kizer will be better because of everything he’s had to endure this season.
“The guy’s talented,” Jackson said. “I truly believe that he’s going to be a good player as you keep going through it, but it’s tough going through it. There are some things that you continue to even scratch your head about, but I think he’s working through it.
“He has had a couple of experiences here over the last couple of weeks where these things have broken his heart. You either learn from them and keep growing or you will succumb to them. I think there is growth there.”
Jackson loves Kizer’s goal to prove himself every time he plays and his knack for responding to challenges. For example, Jackson urged Kizer last week to complete 65 percent of his passes. Then he completed a career high 71.4 percent against the Packers.
“I’m going to keep raising the bar and see if he will keep raising the bar,” Jackson said. “That’s what we have to do.”
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