Steelers plan to hit DeShone Kizer often, 'hit him early'

"Welcome to the NFL, rookie. How's the turf treatin' ya?"

In so many words, that's how the Pittsburgh Steelers intend to initiate Cleveland Browns rookie gunslinger DeShone Kizer into the professional ranks: By introducing him to the Cleveland sod again and again.

"Hit him often, hit him early," defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said regarding Pittsburgh's general gameplan for Kizer, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. "Doesn't really work if you don't hit him. You can sell all these different things, but if you don't hit the quarterback, he'll have time to dissect the defense."

Not a bad strategy for the Steelers, who, as Fowler noted, are a league-best 19-4 against rookie QBs against 2004, Ben Roethlisberger's first in the league.

Big Ben came into the league as a 22-year-old, but didn't earn his first start until Week 3 after Tommy Maddox was injured. Kizer is making his first start as a fresh-faced 21-year-old, becoming one of only six quarterbacks to ever start Week 1 at that age. The last two, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, faced off in their debut in 2015; Mariota is the only one of the six to win his opener.

Kizer is tied for the third-youngest QB to start in Week 1 since 1970, but there's no guarantee that youth will precede opening day jitters for the rookie.

When, not if, Pittsburgh's pass rushers come calling on Sunday afternoon, veteran tackle Joe Thomas and Cleveland's offensive line won't be shocked. They've seen this before.

"I am not sure what they are thinking," Thomas told reporters Thursday, "but certainly, every coach I have been around when you face a rookie quarterback it's, 'Let's try to rattle him. Let's throw a bunch of different looks at him. Let's throw a bunch of blitzes at him and see if he can handle it.'

"I wouldn't expect anything differently in this game because they want to test him. They want to see what he knows and what he can handle and try to find a weakness in his game and go at it because that is what the NFL is all about. You try to find your opponent's weakness and you go at it until they fix it."

The Steelers' defensive strategy obviously won't be one-fold. The first matter of business will be containing Cleveland's running game, paced by Isaiah Crowell, and only then turning it loose against the frosh, who Pittsburgh hopes won't be up to the challenge.

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