Heading into training camp, DeShone Kizer seems to be the chic pick for media pundits to start at QB entering the regular season for the Cleveland Browns. As Kizer continues to share first team reps at the start of training camp, Mary Kay Cabot, Ryan Wilson at CBS, the Orange and Brown Report, and the Associated Press have all released articles heralding the arrival of what all hope could be the Cleveland football messiah.
These reports are not without substance - first hand accounts of Kizer’s physical prowess abound:
the ball just noticeably comes out with more velocity from Kizer's hand than the other guys pic.twitter.com/Q5DEe2Pwcx— Jordan Zirm (@clevezirm) July 27, 2017
Hidden bonus in practice today. Big wind. Chance to evaluate QB arms. Osweiler adjusted. Kizer's ball cut right through it from start.— Steve Doerschuk (@sdoerschukREP) July 28, 2017
Nathan Zegura stated that Kizer has been making throws “that no one has seen in Berea for a long time.” Praising his academic progress, Zegura shared that veteran offensive linemen were “blown away at where he is mentally. This is a guy who has complete command over the playbook”.
Hue Jackson added more fuel to the fire when he stated that Kizer was progressing faster than expected:
Yes, he is [coming along faster than expected] - He's understanding the offense. I could take you back to his days at OTAs -- he struggled calling the plays. The words were a lot simpler. The language was a different. I did not see as much of that today. That is improvement. Obviously, he made some good throws and did not turn the ball over. Those things are good.
Again, it's just one day. We are not going to make decisions on guys in one day. We have a lot of work to do.
Kizer’s clear physical dominance demonstrates why he was consistently grouped in the top tier of quarterbacks heading into April’s draft. One lingering concern for Kizer has been his ability to mentally and emotionally handle pressure situations in football games and provide the leadership expected of an NFL-caliber starting QB. Bill Livingston reminds us of Kizer’s self-promotion just before the draft:
No one else is as big as I am. No one else is as powerful a runner as I am. No one else can do what I can do. I do have the ability to be the greatest quarterback to ever play. Imagine taking (Tom) Brady's intellect and Brady's preparation and putting it on a guy with Cam Newton's body. Why can't I be the greatest? The only thing stopping me from it is me.
The presumption evident by Kizer here is massive, and this certainly highlights an aspect of his development of which it is very important to stay aware. Today, Kizer had an interesting and very revealing interview with Bull and Fox regarding his development as a leader and how he should have done a better job for the fighting Irish. When asked about what happened in his last year at Notre Dame, Kizer had the following to offer:
It’s hard to look at tape without understanding the situation around it. There’s a quarterback competition going on, there’s a bunch of freshman on the field... the season before we were a big veteran team. The average guys on the team are still four years into college...
At this point, it’s important to pause to remember how Kizer came to prominence. In 2015, he started the season as a backup for QB Malik Zaire. On the second game against the University of Virginia, Zaire was injured and Kizer stepped in to rally for the victory in Charlottesville. Kizer took advantage of the opportunities afforded him and led an experienced team (though further analysis of ND’s roster leads one to believe that Kizer may need a better explanation of mean, median and mode) featuring players like Will Fuller and Ronnie Stanley to 9 victories as a sophomore.
Last summer, Zaire was coming back from injury for his senior season and attempting to reclaim the starting QB job he had vacated. Kizer was challenged to win the job amidst the adulation of external punditry, and was under great stress to prevail.
Obviously, to go 4-8 at Notre Dame is unacceptable. To go back and reevaluate that there’s some leadership things. There are some things to develop young guys. There are some things within leadership focusing on being QB and not focusing on developing the guys around you.
Later in the interview, Kizer readdressed some specific leadership lessons he took away from the 2016 season:
- His personality rubs off on those around him - specifically, if he is withdrawn, others will mirror
- Spending time with the other players, and developing them, is vital
- Camaraderie is important, and unless you’re actively seeking these relationships they will be harder to come by
Kizer described these lessons within the context of the quarterback uncertainty of the time- where he didn’t want to step up and act like the starting QB until he actually came out and won the job. The overarching lesson that he learned was to always lead like a starting QB. In trying to grow as a football player and leader, Kizer specifically mentioned Joe Thomas as his role-model:
It’ truly a blessing being next to a guy like Joe Thomas who is going to Canton someday. Seeing who he is going into his 11th season is a guy I want to emulate now.
This time around, Kizer is attempting to hold himself to a different standard. He has been in touch with Matthew Dayes to help him work, and Njoku told Nathan Zegura that they talked all the time over the summer.
Throughout the interview, there was not even a hint of the cockiness seen prior to the draft, and it is extremely encouraging to observe his reflective analysis on last year’s failures. Even when with goaded with Brian Kelly’s opinion that he should still be in college, Kizer politely agreed with the sentiment that he needs growth but calmly added that there is no better place to learn football than with NFL coaches.
While we know that the media and fan base desperately want to see something new, which may inspire hope for a better tomorrow in Berea, it is important to slow down a bit and dig deeper. At least in this cursory look at DeShone Kizer, it really does seem like he’s growing not only not on the football field, but as a man and as a person. Hopefully Hue Jackson and David Lee continue to groom DeShone so that he may lead the Browns to glory.