Tomorrow night the Browns will be taking on the New York Giants in preseason game two of the 2017 campaign, and expectations abound as to what can/should be accomplished. As is to be expected the focus is heavily centered on the quarterback position, and indeed it has (and has had) my rapt attention all throughout this process (which now goes back about 18 years this cycle). I get the sense that so many in Browns’ fandom have as expectations, among other things, that we can get a firm read on all of it with the playing of the game tomorrow. Unfortunately, the showdown with the G-Men at FOSFEF will likely be disappointing in that regard.
Perhaps somewhat paradoxically, this is a very consequential period of time for our beloved (r)orange helmets. Many of the decisions being made now will go a long way towards determining if we may (finally) be on a trajectory for success, and if so how much longer it will take to get there. I’m not necessarily talking about the assignment of winners to the various position battles. Those are important, mind you (especially at QB, RT, and S) but that’s not really what I’m talking about. Those will work themselves out and (as always) will be fluid, depending on all kinds of things that we don’t know about right now.
As you, I’m very optimistic about the direction this team is heading in, but try not to delude myself about what to actually expect in terms of results when the games start counting a little less from a month from now. I try to always keep in mind that we are barely a year and a half removed from completely gutting (down to the joists) what was already a very bad team.
Thus, last season’s 1-15 record really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to many people following this situation (and really didn’t as it happened) and while I think improvement over that certainly is achievable and reasonable to be expected, exactly how much improvement is the tricky part, and it really depends on what you’re looking for.
As things stand now, Brock Osweiler will be the starter when we take on New York. DeShone Kizer will be 2nd, and Cody Kessler (already assumed basically dead in this competition) will be 3rd. Whether or not Kevin Hogan cracks the field remains to be seen, but presently this is what coach Hue Jackson has to work with in order to field a competitive ballclub in 2017.
There are varying reasons to be excited or dejected about the prospect of any of them, just depending on who you are talking to. Personally, I’m 100% in the play-Kizer-right-now camp, but others are understandably reticent to go that route (with Joe Thomas’ words this week going a long way to reinforce that notion).
When it comes to Osweiler, the hope is that his veteran presence will be a stabilizing force for an offense (and indeeb, team) that has been severely lacking in that regard for a good while now. There is also some reasonable arguments which can be made regarding the role of Houston HC Bill O’Brien last season which may explain away a great deal of Osweiler’s (very) apparent shortcomings. That combined with comparatively much more favorable tape from his days in Denver, can not unreasonably lead one to conclude that a change of scenery could lead to a resurgence in his career (corresponding necessarily with a reversal of our fortunes).
Of course if that’s all true, and he really is a capable NFL starter worthy of his significant draft position, then the trade we pulled off with Houston may be the football heist of all time. Then again, another (and perhaps more likely) scenario is that the reason he looked inaccurate in Houston is because he is, in fact, inaccurate. That is, maybe the reason his decision-making seemed to be poor is because he is prone to making bad decisions with the football. It could be that he really just is not good when facing pressure, and it doesn’t have much to do with the Texans’ offensive scheme or his relationship with his former coach.
Last week’s showing by DeShone Kizer is one of the most optimistic by a young signal-caller of recent memory. He didn’t establish himself as a QBOTF or anything, but he did establish himself as a quality prospect, and we honestly haven’t had one as exciting as him in I-can’t-remember-when. So that’s cool, to be enjoyed and I along with you eagerly await seeing him play some more (and hopefully with better supporting cast and against better competition) tomorrow night.
The wild-eyed optimist can see a tremendous physical frame which produces excellent, big-league level arm-talent as well as not-insignificant mobility. He’s clearly a bright young man, and it’s not far-fetched to presume that the reason his draft stock plummeted as it did (he was projected as high as top five preseason ‘16 and ultimately slipped to us in the 2nd round) was because of a likewise toxic coaching environment experienced at Notre Dame under Brian Kelly. The early returns definitely lend some credence to that notion, and could explain away some of Kizer’s apparent deficiencies which resulted in three QB’s being selected before him last April.
On the other hand, it may be that the reason he looked bad on a lot of his tape the final year at ND is because he is, in fact, bad. Now of course all rookies are going to be bad at first, but few are ever able to turn the corner. Kizer is cause for more positivity than we’ve been able to reasonably enjoy for quite some time. He still can pretty easily bust.
Looking at Cody Kessler’s rookie season, and considering the general dysfunction associated with a 1-15 team, and I think he deserves some kudos for his effort. While he doesn’t possess any of the prototypical QB traits coveted by draftniks and fans alike, he does display an accuracy that isn’t really matched by either of the previously-mentioned candidates. There were times where he performed pretty well under pressure last year, and perhaps with continued reps could grow into a functional starter.
Then again, that less-than-ideal frame did tend to result in some frailty during his rookie season, and many here spot a seeming hesitation to push the ball deep as timidity rooted in his (really) less-than-ideal arm-talent. I think that last point is beaten-to-death a bit but overall, there’s good reason to doubt whether Kessler can ever step through that door. Just as of this summer (at the time of this writing anyway) he’s gone from 1st to 3rd on the depth chart, which isn’t the trend any aspiring starter likes to see.
With all these guys, you can talk yourself into believing a bright future (and not-so-dark present) may be attained. I won’t disagree that all have potential, but I also acknowledge the very real shortcomings that all would need to overcome if any want to claim that elusive Browns FQB status. To be sure, none of them are even close to that right now, but that doesn’t mean that one of them can’t be, eventually.
All of which is to say, that while we have three(ish) potential solutions to the QB question, we don’t really have a known solution at present. What my fervent hope for the future orients around is the notion that even if the eventual solution isn’t currently on the roster, that we not abandon the process upon which we have embarked and at which we are only still scarcely past the starting point. After ripping it down to the joists, there has been some very impressive rebuilding going on.
The offensive line (RT pending) has the potential to be one of, if not the best in all of football. Now, the word ‘if’ need be applied not just to the hypothetical of our being tops, but also to the proposition that we’ll definitely be even good. Newcomer J.C. Tretter’s health is a question mark as is LG Joel Bitonio’s (who’s out for the game tomorrow and probably the preseason). There’s also the aforementioned uncertainty about RT, where it looks like Shon Coleman is the driver’s seat to win the competition over Cam Erving.
Still, even with those misgivings, a lot of good attention (and money) was paid to this unit. It seems that Analytics favors allocating large resources to fortifying the unit charged with protecting whoever our QB is going to be. I have to say that I mightily endorse this evident approach.
At the same time, a great deal of talent has been added to really all levels of the defense, but especially on the defensive line. High and numerous draft resources have been expended to get pressure on opposing teams’ offenses, and again I have to endorse this approach in the strongest terms imaginable. I can’t wait to see Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah both pressuring from the EDGE in a real game setting.
Team Moneyball also both landed and secured Jamie Collins, who looks poised to be a major difference maker in the middle of the Browns revamped defense led by Gregg Williams. It may be that this helped in recruitment for Jason McCourty, who looks to be securing the 2nd starting CB spot after signing as a F/A this last offseason. They acquired DB’s Jamar Taylor and Calvin Pryor (both former high-value prospect with disappointing early careers) for pennies on the NFL dollar.
Quite honestly, the way this group has completely turned over the roster in the last two offseasons is stunning. They took a bevy of starting resources and multiplied them. The Carson Wentz trade with Philly turned out to be the wellspring from which a multitude of draft resources have and continue to emanate. Sashi Brown, Paul Depodesta and the rest of the team have done an amazing job of drafting a TON of high-value picks over the last two years, while simultaneously stock-piling future assets. The duality is truly remarkable, especially when you add in that they’ve done this while consistently remaining about fifty million under the cap.
It’s a very good plan, and it needs time to truly work out. More so than any other F/O group we’ve had in (AT LEAST) the last decade, these guys look to have definitive plan of attack and they are executing it. It’s really fun to watch it being employed.
The Bottom Line
It is possible that the answer to the quarterback question is on the current roster. It is also possible that it isn’t. Either way, what remains the most important part of this equation is the patience in the process demonstrated by (owners) Jimmy and Dee Haslam. So far all the words and body language indicate that they know how important it is to stay the course and are invested in doing so. At the same time, we are entering into that precarious territory where the Change-storm-winds start a-brewin’. The fact remains that since purchasing the team, no coach has made it past two years during his tenure.
Obviously, that needs to change if we are ever to really turn this around. This current group has proven that they are competent, that they are shrewd, that they know how to maximize their assets and to multiply resources. Time will tell on the overall talent evaluation but early indicators are positive. Whether an answer to the quarterback question is solved after this entire season has been played, and almost irrespective of what the actual record is, we need to see this thing through.
Thus, while we can all hope that Osweiler, Kizer, or Kessler breaks though and establishes himself, we need also to allow for the possibility that none of them will. We may have to accept that there may be a more deliberate and long-term plan in place. That may mean more time, even beyond this year. We’re heading in the right direction though, and if we’re smart we’ll continue to do so.
Who Do You Think The Starting QB Will Be On Opening Day
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