Adding to the already simmering quarterback drama in Cleveland, head coach Hue Jackson announced Wednesday that rookie DeShone Kizer would start the team's third preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He added that Kizer is putting himself in position to start Week 1. (We bolded the key section).
"This morning, I informed our quarterbacks that DeShone will be our starter for the third preseason game against Tampa," Jackson wrote in a statement released by the club Wednesday morning. "He has made a lot of progress by investing the time necessary to learn our offense, working hard to improve on his fundamentals while also effectively moving the offense in preseason games. Development is so important for a young quarterback, this is the next step he needs to take and he deserves this opportunity. We are very excited about seeing DeShone in the role of starter for this week, as he is certainly positioning himself well to earn the starting job heading into the regular season.
"Much like DeShone, Brock, Cody [Kessler] and Kevin [Hogan] have worked extremely hard throughout training camp and have helped create a very supportive environment in our quarterback room. They've pushed each other, worked well together and we expect that to continue."
It's difficult not to take this as a two-way motivational ploy from Jackson. As NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported before Cleveland's Monday Night Football win over the Giants, Osweiler could have sealed the deal with a good performance. After going 6-of-8 passing for 25 yards and an interception off a tipped pass, Osweiler didn't exactly live up to expectations. That allowed Jackson to pull the latest trick up his sleeve.
NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported later Wednesday that Osweiler will not play at all during Saturday's matchup, per a source informed of the Browns' plans.
Jackson confirmed that Osweiler would sit out Saturday's game when he met with reporters Wednesday, saying "I want to play the young guys."
"I think he's trending in the right direction with our offensive football team," Jackson added on Kizer. "Let's give him a chance to go play and let's see if he can show and demonstrate those characteristics to the rest of our team -- the staff and the organization."
By putting all the pressure on Kizer for this week, Jackson is giving himself three days to see how Kizer acts as the presumptive Week One starting quarterback as well as how Kizer plays against a good defense in Tampa Bay. If Kizer doesn't perform well, Jackson would still be comfortable enough playing Osweiler to start the season -- one preseason game isn't going to change that.
This is not to take away from what Kizer has accomplished so far. Despite being very young (21), Kizer has kept pace with a stellar rookie class this preseason. In his debut against the Saints, he went 11-of-18 for 184 yards and a touchdown. Against the Giants, he went 8-of-13 for 74 yards and a rushing touchdown. Kizer has not been afraid to utilize his body and move the football. While he's taken five sacks in just two weeks, there have been some professional-grade throws forcing Jackson's hand.
"This is awesome," Kizer told reporters Wednesday when asked about starting this weekend.
The Browns are still not in an enviable position with their quarterbacks, but Jackson's latest maneuver puts the team in a good spot to be content either way. If Kizer performs well against the Bucs, Cleveland might actually be excited about the quarterback under center for the season opener for the first time in years.