Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson is planning to announce the team’s starting quarterback for Week 1 on or before Wednesday as his team prepares for its “dress rehearsal” preseason game against Tampa Bay on Saturday.
He said as much after the team’s 10-6 win over the New York Giants on Monday night at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“I would like to put this thing to bed and just move forward in that direction, and whatever decision we make, we make,” the coach replied when asked if he would be naming another preseason game starter, or if he was ready to make his final decision. “We want to make the best one for the Browns.”
Whatever he has seen throughout summer practices, training camp, and now through two preseason games is apparently enough to make his decision.
“I think I have seen enough. For me, I have seen enough. I have done this long enough in my career and know what it looks like and what it feels like and what it should be.”
Jackson did leave a caveat, although he quickly admitted it was unlikely.
“If I feel like after watching the tape we need to wait a little longer, we will wait a little longer,” he said, almost backtracking before regaining his resolve. “I just feel like we are at the point where we can move forward and feel good about it.
Dan Labbe of The Plain Dealer said it best, perhaps, in regards to Jackson’s difficult and looming decision:
DeShone Kizer might be the best QB on the roster. That doesn't mean he's ready to start in the NFL. That's the problem Hue faces.— Dan Labbe (@dan_labbe) August 22, 2017
Does anyone envy the position Jackson’s in? It’s hard to see how any of the three quarterbacks has distinguished himself as a complete player, or done very much at all to show he’s above his peers, to “win” this competition.
But where Labbe and I disagree is in semantics. What exactly constitutes ready when it comes to playing quarterback in the NFL? And what better way can a player who is ready, or close to it, learn the ways to succeed in the NFL than to play against NFL caliber players and coordinators?
If a quarterback, like rookie DeShone Kizer, displays all of the entrance criteria a coach requires of his quarterback at a fundamental and physical level, can communicate plays to his team in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage, and can make the throws required of his offensive coordinator’s offense, then what harm is there in allowing that player to play in games, make mistakes and successes, and learn in the process?
I do not subscribe to the rationale that playing a quarterback too soon can “ruin” that player by hurting his confidence if he doesn’t succeed right away. If a player’s psyche is that weak, he clearly doesn’t have all the tools needed to survive and become an elite level NFL quarterback. Facing adversity, making big plays in big moments, and not folding under the pressure of those moments are some of the most important qualities a quarterback can possess.
Will Kizer flourish if put on the field now? That’s far from certain. He has struggled some with verbiage, holds the ball too long in the pocket frequently, and he has made a couple poor decisions, including getting plays off before play clock expiration. But what’s more certain than Kizer’s immediate performance, is Brock Osweiler’s struggles and limitations that have now been on display for three coaching staffs. Cody Kessler, while efficient in some areas, is ultimately limited physically.
If Kizer is not the choice, and I think that would be a mistake, Kessler gives the Browns a known commodity who has found some kind of success for Jackson. He may not be able to drive the ball like Osweiler, but he’s a much more efficient player who can do enough to manage Jackson’s offense.
The choice comes down to development and what you consider ready as it pertains to NFL quarterbacks, and how you interpret learning. Everyone is different, but the way learning is done best is through action, evaluation, and repetition.
Here’s my criteria for playing a young quarterback. If you see potential in a player, determine he is ready, have no other viable options or players with more potential on your roster, and want said player to progress, you play him.
What I’ve seen from Kizer, both in college and so far in the NFL — both on and off the field — combined with his natural athletic ability, is enough for him to win the readiness debate; and the quarterback competition as a result, because he meets all of my criteria.