CHARLOTTE -- Sifting through the wreckage of a fourth straight Browns loss, there's one gleaming treasure to take home: Rookie cornerback Pierre Desir's first start, considering the circumstances, was borderline tremendous.
Drafted mainly because of his long-term potential, the fourth-round pick loudly tore off his theoretic redshirt against Carolina and may have crafted a role for himself in the secondary beyond next week's season finale at Baltimore.
Everything Desir exhibited during the NFL Combine and throughout practice in 2014 was on full display at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.
Mostly marking monstrous 6-foot-5 receiver and Rookie of the Year candidate Kelvin Benjamin, Desir played with physicality, frustrating the fellow rookie at the line of scrimmage. Desir notched two pass breakups – the second on a touchdown-saving play in the end zone.
Benjamin was held to just 47 yards and five catches. Benjamin's 9.4 yards per catch was his third lowest total of his season. Targeted a whopping 12 times from quarterback Cam Newton, Benjamin was supposed to be the playmaker the Panthers would use to derail Cleveland's defensive game plan.
In a sport full of dozens of one-on-one matchups, it was Desir who walked away the victor.
"He is a great player, very big and very physical guy," Desir said. "He has great hands and he ran good routes. I was trying to make sure I was going to be in a position where I could deflect that pass. It was a good matchup and I had fun out there."
On Saturday night, the coaching staff informed the Haiti native he would be starting his first NFL game. With Joe Haden nursing an injured shoulder, Desir received a fair amount of first-team reps in practice and hoped his number would be called. When it was, Desir vindicated everyone – assistant coaches like Aaron Glenn who have put in extra time with him, the front office who took a chance on the D-II prospect, teammates and, mostly, himself.
"Pierre prepares hard every day," cornerback Buster Skrine said. "You see it in the facility. He goes about his business every day like a true professional. That's the reason he could step in at cornerback and play at a high level."
Said coach Mike Pettine: "I thought he made some plays. He was going against a pretty good receiver. To me, he had a better week and we had a little bit more confidence in him."
Desir joins K'Waun Williams as rookie cornerbacks who have thrived in larger roles at unexpected times. Because of a poor week of practice, fellow rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert wasn't on the field much against Carolina.
Desir's confidence never wavered and it visibly got stronger as the game went along. As it turns out, maybe the bright lights of the NFL aren't that overwhelming for the Lindenwood University graduate.