Browns quarterback Cody Kessler spent the offseason on a quest of constant improvement.
From the basic mechanics of throwing the football, to improving his core strength, to a new diet aimed at maximizing his potential, the second-year signal-caller worked to perfect the things that held him back during a rookie year of highs and lows.
Kessler, who was thrust into the starting lineup last season because of injuries, showed plenty of promise and plenty of pluck in eight starts. He was unable, however, to lift Cleveland to a win in those appearances and struggled to help the offense push the ball down the field.
So Kessler — who met with reporters Wednesday following the second day of OTAs — took those things to heart, determined to return to offseason workouts in Berea ready to earn a starting job he shared during a 1-15 campaign last season.
You can count Browns head coach Hue Jackson and 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas among those who have taken notice of that hard work.
"I think he's got sort of the intangibles that you need as a quarterback, from the decision-making, to the intelligence, to the desire and the drive," Thomas said Monday at the Cleveland Browns Foundation Golf Tournament, "and also I watch him out there — he spent a lot of time during the offseason working on his arm strength — and it looks like he has improved his zip on the ball and, I'm not a quarterback guru or expert, but to the naked eye it seems like he has a stronger arm."
While Jackson said the starting quarterback job remains an open competition, Kessler — whom teammates praised for his courage and work ethic last season — deserved to take first-team reps over former Texans starter Brock Osweiler, Kevin Hogan and rookie DeShone Kizer.
"He's worked his tail off. He deserves the right and the opportunity to walk into this building and walk out there first," Jackson said earlier this month. "They have to take it from him. They better take it from him because I know him – he is not going to give it up. It will be fun. That is what competition is all about."
It's why Kessler shrugged off his current place on the team's depth chart, unready to rest on the foundation he laid in the offseason. "Obviously there's a sense of confidence you get going into that," he said, "but at the same time, I just look at it as an opportunity. The other three guys are great quarterbacks."
Kessler, who described himself as a "wide-eyed rookie" this time last year, said there's an added sense of comfort entering his second NFL season in both his arm strength and knowledge of the offense.
"I think for me mostly it's just confidence and being able to make some of those longer throws and push the ball downfield," he said, adding, "Being able to go out there and knowing you can make every throw, so now you're focused on what's going on with the defense, what you're going to call, what different calls you can make, change the play and different stuff like that, which I think helped me out a lot be able to play a lot faster."
Kessler will have the chance to show off those improvements over the coming months, aware that nothing will be handed to neither him or his fellow signal-callers.
"He has worked extremely hard. What he's working at now is maintaining it and being able to do it week in and week out and day in and day out," Jackson said. "That is his challenge, and we will keep staying after it with him."