Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 50 of 55 JANUARY 2018 51 IRISH IN THE PROS BY COREY BODDEN C onventional wisdom sug- gested DeShone Kizer would not be thrown right into the fire by the Cleveland Browns in his first year in the NFL after being drafted in the second round. Instead, it was thought he would be given time to develop and hone his skills to be in the best position to succeed for a franchise that has been among the league's worst for more than a decade. Browns head coach Hue Jackson, however, felt the only way Kizer could gain the needed experience is to play and learn from his successes and failures. He named Kizer the starter to open the season, and the ride has not been smooth for the rookie. After a quality debut during which he threw for 222 yards with one touch- down and one interception in a 21-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sept. 10, Kizer threw six interceptions over his next two games versus the Indianapo- lis Colts and Baltimore Ravens. He continued to struggle and ulti- mately was benched during Cleve- land's 17-14 loss to the New York Jets Oct. 8. Former Stanford signal-caller Kevin Hogan replaced Kizer and also started the next week in a 33-17 defeat to the Houston Texans. The following week (Oct. 22), Kizer and former USC quarterback Cody Kessler split time in a 12-9 overtime setback to the Tennessee Titans. At that point, Jackson finally made the decision to keep Kizer in the role for the long haul. Over the next six weeks, Kizer 's play improved. He averaged 214.5 yards through the air and 31.5 yards as a rusher, and accounted for nine total touchdowns. He also tossed six interceptions while completing 55.7 percent of his passes. Despite benching Kizer four and a half games into his career, Jackson is sticking behind the rookie and sees a brighter future. "DeShone is still a growing young quarterback," Jackson told Cleveland. com. "He's working extremely hard. He's trying his tail off to win for his football team, and sometimes in those moments you kind of revert back. You're going to take the good with the bad. … I am not down on DeShone … "I want DeShone to keep working at this thing. He knows he has my back- ing and my support, but he knows there are some areas he has to grow and grow up pretty fast. He's taken that challenge." Jackson believes the experience, good or bad, Kizer is gaining and learning from this season will pay off in 2018. "He's trying to be the best version of himself," Jackson said. "He never said he was going to come in here and light this up. He said he was going to take this opportunity and try to make the most of it. I don't think he's getting beat down. He knows he has my sup- port. He knows he has his teammates' support. This young man is going to keep pushing. "… I'd be surprised if he's not remarkably better a year from now from this experi- ence." Working through adversity isn't new for Kizer. He found himself in a QB competition with Malik Zaire last year despite a stellar 2015 sea- son, and then had to endure Notre Dame's 4-8 campaign. "Last year, going through the battles I went through at Notre Dame and now going through the battles now, it's all going to be experiences I can pull from for when we do get over this hump," Kizer said. "To see how close it is, it's what's driving us as a team." Kizer is aiming to continue his pro- gression while Cleveland's season winds down in December. The Browns were 0-13 following a 27-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers. He played in 12 of those contests and completed 201 of 373 passes (53.9 percent) for 2,252 yards with nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions, while also rushing for 315 yards and five scores. "It is all about doing more and more and more," Kizer told "Every time you do not win, instead of trying to eliminate something out of your game, you just have to do what- ever you are doing at a higher level. "For me, as the leader of this team, it is about time for me to step up and kind of grow into my leadership, and one of those is being a little more vo- cal." ✦ DeShone Kizer Having An Up-And-Down Rookie Campaign Kizer started 12 of the winless Browns' first 13 contests, and connected on 53.9 percent of his throws for 2,252 yards with nine scores and 17 intercep- tions while also rushing for 315 yards and five touchdowns. PHOTO BY JOHN REID/COURTESY CLEVELAND BROWNS NFL NOTES • Tight end Kyle Rudolph had his most productive three-week stretch of the season in weeks 12-14 to help the 10-3 Minnesota Vikings seize control of the NFC North and improve their chances of earning a playoff bye. He caught 11 passes for 140 yards and four touchdowns to help the Vikings top Detroit 30-23 on Thanksgiving; knock off Atlanta, the defending NFC champions, 14-9 on the road the next time out; and fall in a close one at Carolina, 31-24. Through 13 games, Rudolph had 53 receptions for 506 yards and seven touchdowns. • Defensive lineman Sheldon Day was let go by the Jacksonville Jaguars in mid-November, but was immediately claimed off waivers by the San Francisco 49ers. He played in six games for the Jaguars, who boast one of the league's top defenses, and recorded three tackles and a sack in limited playing time. In his first three contests after joining the 49ers, he had already contributed seven stops (five solo). • Eight-year NFL veteran offensive tackle Sam Young made his first three starts of the season for the Miami Dolphins in weeks 12-14. He had played in four contests as a reserve before entering the starting lineup at right tackle in a 35-17 loss to New England Nov. 26.

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