Of all the things we were told to expect upon hearing rookie DeShone Kizer was going to start Week 1 for the Cleveland Browns, this one caveat stood out the most. Sure, the former Notre Dame standout was physically gifted, equipped with a big arm and plenty of athleticism. Still, no 21-year-old quarterback is going to hop right into the NFL and not take time to develop.
Two weeks into the season, it’s safe to say we’ve already seen a few struggles from Kizer when it comes to learning on the job. However, he and the Browns are now approaching an incredibly soft spot in their schedule. While this presents a great opportunity for the team in general, it also opens the door for Kizer when it comes to his development.
With three straight winless teams coming up on the schedule, there’s no better time for Cleveland’s QB to start showing some progress.
Let’s face it, Kizer’s NFL debut was the definition of trial by fire. Opening the year against the Pittsburgh Steelers – seen by many as one of the best teams in the league – then traveling east to take on a vaunted Baltimore Ravens defense? This would’ve made for a rocky start to any quarterback’s career, even more so for the raw Kizer.
As expected, he frequently displayed just how much he has to learn. Both games featured numerous instances of Kizer taking forever to go through his reads, resulting in a sack, a turnover or both. Cleveland spent a ton of money revamping its offensive line this offseason, but even the best units in the league can’t be expected to hold their blocks for six or seven seconds.
That said, Kizer left the Pittsburgh defeat showing a good amount of potential. Those who expected him to continue progressing against Baltimore, though, were treated to the exact opposite.
The Ravens’ defense terrorized Kizer all afternoon, forcing three interceptions and a lost fumble. It seemed as though all positives from a respectable day against Pittsburgh were washed away, forcing coach Hue Jackson to spend the past few days vehemently defending his young QB to the media.
To be fair, Cleveland’s coach isn’t incorrect in saying it was foolish to assume Kizer would look like an All-Pro the second he touched the field. These first two weeks were as clear an indication as ever as to just how much he has to learn. Nobody in their right mind would’ve expected him to look phenomenal against two tough division rivals.
This week, though, the pressure starts to ease up on Kizer. Cleveland takes on the 0-2 Indianapolis Colts (as road favorites, nonetheless), followed by a game against a Cincinnati Bengals team which has yet to score a touchdown in 2017. Finally, the Browns host a New York Jets team everyone is accusing of blatant tanking.
To be blunt – not only should Kizer look better over the next three games, I would argue he has to.
I’m not saying anything less than a 400 yard, three touchdown performance should be viewed as a failure. At the same time, Kizer is seeing a notable drop in week-over-week competition this Sunday. As a result, taking a step back as opposed to forward would be quite alarming.
The Browns see Kizer as a potential franchise quarterback. One of the requirements of someone in this position is beating the teams you’re supposed to beat. As mentioned, Vegas says Cleveland is supposed to beat the Colts. If it can’t do so, and it’s in part because Kizer is still making poorly-advised throws or taking too long to get rid of the ball, this will be a problem.
Remember, while the Browns hitched their wagon to Kizer this season, it should still be considered a one-year audition. Armed with plenty of 2018 picks heading into a draft featuring multiple big-name QB prospects, Cleveland will need to know for sure whether or not it has someone to build around in Kizer.
Unfair as it may be, this means his learning curve needs to be sped up a bit. Signs of progress need to be visible earlier, especially in match-ups against sub-par teams.
Obviously we wouldn’t just close the book on Kizer if he loses to a bad Colts team. At the same time, this is a prime chance for him to take a step forward.
Simply put, you won’t find a better opportunity in Cleveland’s schedule to build momentum than the next three weeks. Whether or not Kizer can will go a long way towards determining where this team goes from here.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook