USA TODAY Sports’ Lindsay H. Jones looks at how the big offseason changes in the AFC North will affect the division’s 2017 NFL season.
USA TODAY Sports
BEREA, Ohio – Brock Osweiler will get the start when the Cleveland Browns open the preseason on Thursday night, but …
Way too early to cast anything in stone. Especially when it comes to Browns quarterbacks. It’s still possible that impressive second-round pick DeShone Kizer – who sparkled during Monday’s practice with a nice touch on a few deep throws — coul wind up as a rookie starter.
Returning starter Cody Kessler? After working with the first team throughout camp, the shuffling on Monday represented a demotion, but he can’t be counted out yet.
“It’s not over,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said.
No, it can’t be over when Jackson, during an interview with USA TODAY Sports, referred to Osweiler as “a good bridge for our team for right now, unless these guys go and catch him. That’s where we are.”
In other words, for the moment it’s Osweiler. That’s significant in itself. Remember when the Browns traded for Osweiler from the Houston Texans in March? His presence in the deal seemed like the B-side of a “Moneyball” exchange. Cleveland was more excited about the second-round pick it received, and gladly absorbed Osweiler’s fat contract to get it.
Now look at him.
“This league gives you opportunities,” Osweiler told reporters on Monday. “Sometimes you don’t know when they are going to come. The key is making the most of that opportunity.”
The last opportunity, with the Texans, didn’t quite work out as Osweiler was benched on the way to the NFL’s second-lowest passer rating (72.2) in 2016.
This opportunity might be affected by how fast Kizer develops. The rookie has drawn praise for his mental game, and he’s hardly lacking physical skills. He needs to demonstrate more accuracy and naturally, handle the twists that pro defenses will throw at him.
Jackson knows. Kizer will get a crack at becoming the franchise quarterback the Browns have lacked for years. The short-term prospect of winning a summer camp competition is really a blip in the big picture for the long haul, which is why you’d hardly expect to see him starting in Week 1.
“You stick him out there at the right time, not the wrong time,” Jackson told USA TODAY Sports. “Hopefully, the young man will keep working. He has a chance to be the future of the organization.”
Kizer seemed to take the news in stride that Osweiler will line up first against the New Orleans Saints.
“Everything that I have been doing up until now is to try to develop and become the best quarterback I can,” said Kizer, who started two seasons at Notre Dame. “Whenever my number is called, I will go out there and perform the way I know how to.”
For now, Jackson wouldn’t mind seeing Osweiler seize control of the job, which would allow Kizer time to develop while giving the team a reprieve from the quarterback questions that traditionally hover above the team.
“I think it’s good for our locker room, the players,” Jackson said. “They want to feel good about their opportunities.”
Stability would be too strong a word in this case, with Jackson – forced to start three quarterbacks last season, due to injuries — seeing Osweiler as a bridge.
Besides, you’ll have to see it to believe it when considering Browns quarterbacks. In each of the three years before Jackson arrived, Cleveland started three quarterbacks. Since 2013, the Browns have used nine starting quarterbacks. Since the franchise was revived in 1999, the tally is 26.
Osweiler (or Kizer) could be pegged to become No. 27. But first things first. Osweiler, practicing this week with the first team, for the first time all summer, will likely play a limited number of snaps on Thursday night. Kessler will be the second thrower in the rotation, followed by Kizer.
“My mindset and how I approach things isn’t going to change,” Osweiler said. “There was once a coach that told me, ‘Be the same guy every day.’ That is what I have always tried to do, whether I was the backup or the starter. That is what I’m going to continue to do. Nothing is going to change, just the group I’m working with.”
He’d better be careful in declaring that nothing will change. When it comes to Browns quarterbacks, things always change.
Follow NFL columnist Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
PHOTOS: NFL training camp action