We all knew rookie DeShone Kizer faced a steep learning curve. Entering the NFL at age 21, given the starting quarterback job for a Cleveland Browns team hardly in any position to contend, life was sure to be rough coming out of the gate.
Kizer’s performance through the first three weeks of the season reflects such growing pains. With an 0-3 record and seven interceptions on the year, it’s safe to say he’s having a little trouble learning on the fly.
As apparent as some of his struggles are, though, the shaky start isn’t all on Kizer. You can point the finger of blame towards a few other parties as well. An underperforming wideout corps wouldn’t make life easy for any QB, much less a raw rookie. This, plus questionable game-plans from coach Hue Jackson have combined to hinder Kizer’s debut season so far.
For the sake of his development, both problem areas need to get solved in a hurry.
To be fair, Kizer shouldn’t feel as though he can deflect all the blame from Cleveland’s sloppy start. While he’s made improvements in pocket awareness, he still tends to hold onto the ball way too long, leaving him vulnerable to sacks. His accuracy issues were on full display in last week’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts, as well. Numerous balls were delivered slightly off target, leading to incompletions and a couple picks.
However, he also has two things working against him.
For one, his receivers are doing him no favors. Last week alone, his wideouts were guilty of eight dropped passes. Thanks to Corey Coleman breaking his hand in Week 2, Kizer is already missing his best target. Having everyone else display an alarming inability to hold on to the football certainly doesn’t help matters.
Technically, you could shift some of this blame towards the front office. Someone felt as though a receivers room of Coleman, Kenny Britt and a cast of late round picks and waiver pickups would be more than enough for a rookie QB to work with. This thought, of course, has been dramatically proven wrong.
If Kizer is going to speed up his learning process, he’s going to need his wideouts to step up. Right now, he’s dealing with a group of players who take forever to get open, and when they do they can’t hang on to the ball. Should this become a weekly issue, it’s going to do some damage to Kizer’s development.
The receivers aren’t the only guilty party, though. For some reason, Kizer’s coach isn’t doing a great job at designing a game-plan to help him succeed. Unless this changes, we’re only going to see more of the same.
Last year, Jackson put together a game-plan to help then-rookie Cody Kessler succeed in his first start, a Week 3 bout with the Miami Dolphins. Had it not been for a shanked field goal, Jackson’s strategy of short passes with a mix of wildcat formations would’ve netted Kessler his first win.
Yet, for Kizer, Jackson doesn’t seem as interested in taking this route. He continues to dial up long-range pass plays – again, for receivers who struggle to get open – which hardly helps Kizer’s internal clock issues.
Additionally, the second Cleveland falls behind – typically early in the game – Jackson abandons the running game entirely. While Isaiah Crowell has underwhelmed this season, forcing Kizer to drop back 45+ times a game is going to make life difficult for him and the entire offense in general.
Jackson has talked endlessly about how he’s committing himself to making Kizer his franchise quarterback. One would think he’d start designing game-plans which help hammer this point home. Three weeks in, this hasn’t been the case.
Kizer can’t succeed in the NFL on his own. He certainly possesses the tools needed to become an upper-tier pro quarterback. However, when saddled with a group of receivers who can’t catch and a game-plan which forces him to rely on said receivers to out-perform their abilities, it’s difficult to see how he’s going to develop.
Despite all of this, Kizer has shown some signs of learning. At the same time, said signs will get tougher to come by if he doesn’t start getting help from his supporting cast. This includes both the players in the huddle and the man sending them the plays.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook