DeShone Kizer has strong-armed his way into a starting job.
The rookie quarterback will start Cleveland’s exhibition at Tampa Bay on Saturday, and unless he flops or gets hurt, Kizer will start the Browns’ Sept. 10 season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Coach Hue Jackson elected to go with Kizer, a second-round pick from Notre Dame, over veterans Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler. Kizer has been the most consistent of the three during training camp and led the Browns to three touchdowns during his two exhibition appearances.
Jackson, who went 1-15 in his first season with Cleveland, said he informed the QBs on Wednesday that Kizer would start this week in what is considered a dress rehearsal for the regular season.
“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,” Jackson said. “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.”
Unless he stumbles against the Buccaneers, Kizer will be the 27th different quarterback to start for the Browns since 1999 — and fourth Week 1 starter in the past four years.
Showing off a rocket arm and maturity beyond his years, the 21-year-old has shown no signs of being intimidated by the jump to the pros after making 23 starts in two seasons for the Fighting Irish.
Jackson has been taking it slow with Kizer, who began camp at No. 3 on the depth chart, but is now comfortable enough with him to put him in charge of Cleveland’s offense.
The Browns intend to run the ball more this season, and an aggressive defense should help take some of the pressure off Kizer.
Jackson could have taken the safe route and gone with Osweiler, who went 8-6 as a starter for Houston last season. But Cleveland’s offense has sputtered with Osweiler on the field — zero points in six preseason drives — while Kizer has delivered bigger plays, including two long passes while leading the Browns to a comeback win in his preseason debut against New Orleans.
Kizer has completed 19 of 31 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown in two exhibition games. He’s been sacked five times but also showed some elusiveness with eight rushes for 47 yards, including a 1-yard TD.
Osweiler had an obvious edge because of his experience, but his inability to move the ball on Monday against the New York Giants was costly.
Kessler opened camp as the incumbent starter, but despite being in better shape and building arm strength during the offseason, he was unable to hold off a rookie or Osweiler, who didn’t seem to have much of a future in Cleveland when he was acquired in a trade.
Falcons not eager to rush Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman back for preseason
Falcons coach Dan Quinn says there’s no need to rush Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman back to play in an exhibition game.
When Atlanta opens the regular season Sept. 10 at Chicago, Quinn is confident both players will be ready.
Jones, a two-time All-Pro receiver, is finally practicing at 100 percent following right foot surgery in March. After having his reps limited in training camp, Jones is taking all the snaps with the first-team offense.
Freeman, a two-time Pro Bowl running back, is in the NFL concussion protocol and might not be in uniform until the opener. He took a hard hit in the first preseason game two weeks ago at Miami, though the team didn’t know the extent of Freeman’s injury until he left practice early a few days later.
“He’s back to full speed running,” Quinn said Wednesday. “Soon he’ll be participating full speed in practice but you won’t see him suited up this weekend.”
When Atlanta (0-2 preseason) hosts Arizona (1-2) on Saturday in the first game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, there’s a chance that Jones will play, but Quinn and his star receiver will wait a couple more days to decide.
“I’m a professional,” Jones said. “I’ll be ready to go. Being out here practicing against these guys every day is like preseason to me. I don’t take any plays off. No lollygagging around. It’s full speed.”
Jaguars bench Blake Bortles, turn to Chad Henne for next preseason game
Chad Henne will start Jacksonville’s preseason game against Carolina, a change that could signal the end of Blake Bortles’ career with the Jaguars.
Coach Doug Marrone made the announcement Wednesday, a day before the exhibition and nearly a week after he created a quarterback competition in Jacksonville for the first time since 2013. He said both quarterbacks will get time with the first-team offense.
Henne, a 10-year veteran whose last start came in 2014, outperformed Bortles during training camp and through two preseason games. If Henne plays well against the Panthers, he likely will start the Sept. 10 season opener at Houston.
It’s unclear what that would mean for Bortles, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Jaguars exercised a fifth-year option in Bortles’ deal in May that would pay him $19 million in 2018. His salary is guaranteed only for injury, meaning the Jaguars could end up on the hook for a huge payout.
Bears sign offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr. to extension
The Chicago Bears have signed offensive lineman Charles Leno Jr. to a contract extension.
The Bears announced the extension Wednesday.
Leno started all 16 games at left tackle last year and is entering his fourth season with the Bears. Last year marked the second straight season in which Leno made 16 starts. He was one of two Bears offensive players to start every game in 2016.
He helped Chicago finish third in the NFL in rushing as Jordan Howard rushed for 1,313 yards, the most by a Bears rookie.
Leno, a former seventh-round pick from Boise State, has 30 career NFL starts.