BEREA, Ohio -- The battle to become starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns isn't over, but rookie DeShone Kizer definitely is in the lead -- head coach Hue Jackson's remarks notwithstanding.
In the preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints Thursday, Kizer was the standout compared to veterans Brock Osweiler, who started the game, and Cody Kessler, who started eight games for the Browns last season.
Kizer did not play in the first half, and after a rocky third-quarter start in which the Browns totaled 19 yards in his first two possessions, Kizer righted himself and the rest of the offense. Kizer finished the night completing 14 of 18 passes for 126 yards.
He threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Payton on fourth-and-two with 1:52 remaining for what turned out to be the winning points in the 20-14 victory.
A day later, Jackson reacted the way a head coach is expected to react. He praised Kizer, but tried to temper the wave of enthusiasm building around the rookie from Notre Dame.
"I'm still working through the tape, working through practice," Jackson said. "I think DeShone did some really good things and there are things that we have to get cleaned up with him real quickly. But did he take a step? Obviously, he did.
"Anytime you can win the game and make some of the plays he made, there were positives from that. We'll take those positives and work through them but also work through the negatives we have to get squared away."
Osweiler started against the Saints and was given four possessions. The Browns did not score with him at quarterback, although on one possession he did drive the team to the Saints 3-yard line, at which point Jackson decided to go for it on fourth down rather than attempt a field goal. A pass in the end zone intended for Kenny Britt was broken up. Earlier in the same possession, Britt failed to get both feet inbounds on a well-thrown pass in the right corner of the end zone.
Kessler had only two possessions, but the Browns did score a touchdown with him at the controls when rookie running back Matthew Dayes scored from the 1 to end a 21-yard drive that began with a fumble recovery by Carl Nassib.
Kizer had a quiet night until hooking up with wide receiver Richard Mullaney for 52 yards to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Terrance McGee early in the fourth quarter. He compiled more than half of his passing yardage on two completions against Saints defensive backs that will likely be out of the NFL in a month. Jackson does not want fans or anyone to be dazzled by the two deep completions.
"There's a process to all of this," Jackson said. "You want to do what's best for your team and your players. It's not just because people see a bomb thrown downfield from 45 yards. There's more to playing quarterback than just that. We're not there yet."
Still, Kizer showed poise and confidence the Browns hoped they would see when they made him the 52nd pick of the 2017 draft.
"The goal is to gain confidence in everything that we're doing," Kizer said. "There's a reason we're still in training camp after preseason game one. It's because I'm still in the developmental stage in my career. We are going to be able to go back now and watch this film and learn how to watch film in the NFL against an NFL opponent."
The Browns have a long wait for their next game. They don't play again until they host the New York Giants on Aug. 21 in a Monday Night Football game. That gives Jackson plenty of time to work with Kizer and get the rookie ready for his next test. Kizer won't be working against backups if he gets the start against the Giants.
--Defensive tackle Trevon Coley lived up to Jackson's camp praise with four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Coley was signed by the Ravens in 2016 as an undrafted rookie. He was cut on Aug. 29 last year and spent some time on the Redskins practice squad before being signed to the Browns practice squad on Dec. 16. He signed with the Browns on Jan. 2 this year - one day after the 2017 season ended.
Notes: Strong safety Ibraheim Campbell suffered a concussion on the second play of the preseason opener and did not return. He is in the concussion protocol. ... Kick returner Jabrill Peppers helped his cause by returning a kick 27 yards to the Browns 33. He also returned a punt 13 yards. ... Left tackle Joe Thomas, in his 11th season, rested in the preseason opener. ... Offensive lineman Cameron Erving had a long night starting in place of Thomas at left tackle. Erving was called for a false start and holding on consecutive plays. ... Tight end David Njoku was held out of the preseason opener with a back injury.
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