Earlier today, the Cleveland Browns announced rookie Deshone Kizer would start at quarterback this Sunday as the team heads to London to take on the Minnesota Vikings. If he’s lucky, maybe he’ll get to finish the game, too.
Such is life for Kizer, who’s made enough trips from the field to the bench and back again this year to last him a lifetime. Coach Hue Jackson insists his handling of the 21-year-old is a great learning experience. It doesn’t take a genius to realize it’s anything but.
Jackson and the Browns are ignoring a simple fact that Kizer is never going to learn what it takes to be a starting quarterback until they actually give him a chance to do so.
This isn’t an attempt to ignore Kizer’s 2017 stats, which aren’t exactly pretty. It’s tough to decide which is worse — his only throwing three touchdown passes or being guilty of eleven interceptions. While he certainly isn’t helped by a receiving corps which is ineffective at best, Kizer’s turnovers are definitely a big concern.
This was to be expected, though. Kizer was deemed raw from the get-go, someone who had the physical tools to be a great pro quarterback, but just needed some polish. He’s hardly the first rookie QB to go through growing pains. Many optimistic fans use the fact Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions in his first season as proof there’s no point in giving up on Kizer this early.
This last statement is obviously true. The only difference is Manning was allowed to learn from his mistakes. He played all 16 games in said season, despite the fact he turned the ball over at such an alarming rate.
On the other hand, Kizer has been yanked from two of the last three games for turning the ball over. He lost his starting job in between, only getting it back after backup Kevin Hogan somehow looked even worse.
So, when you go back to the earlier note about Jackson claiming Kizer will learn from this, you can’t help but ask just how exactly that’s supposed to happen. How can a rookie learn from these mistakes if he’s pulled off the field any time he makes them?
The message Jackson is trying to get across certainly isn’t wrong. At the same time, the way he’s trying to hammer it home incredibly hinders Kizer’s chances of developing.
From the first game of the season, it was apparent Kizer was holding on to the ball too long, taking more time than he had available to try and make the correct throw. As the weeks went on, more replays showed him staring down open receivers, only choosing not to throw it due to fear of making a mistake.
Consider that and tell me how he’s supposed to fix this if he now faces the threat of being benched for an errant throw. How can Kizer be expected to play loose and stay out of his head if he knows he’s one bad pass from being sent back to the sideline?
Again, overthinking was an issue he was facing before Jackson kept benching him. Now, with his coach openly threatening to yank him from games if he throws an interception, it’s impossible to believe Kizer will ever properly learn how to bounce back from a bad turnover. Instead, he’ll just keep wondering if every ill-advised pass will be the one which ends his time on the field.
Not only is Jackson’s continued pattern of benching Kizer any time he struggles hindering his chance to learn, so is the constant doubling back on statements of support.
Multiple times this year, Jackson has said the season was all about riding with Kizer through thick and thin. Twice now, those quotes were followed up just days later by shots of the rookie on the sideline while his backup takes over on the field.
As you can see, not only does the threat of being benched hurt Kizer’s progression on the field, it also destroys the element of trust he should have with his coach. How can he believe Jackson’s public backing anymore, especially if it’s always followed by getting pulled from games any time he makes a mistake?
The hope is Kizer will actually get a full game in this weekend, no matter how well he plays. If he gets yanked again, it’s impossible to believe he’ll ever learn anything except playing out of fear and distrusting the man in charge of helping you succeed.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook