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Browns QBs will have to 'take' starting job away from an improved Cody Kessler

The Browns will have an open competition at quarterback, but one member of the roster has already earned the right to take the first crack at it.

Head coach Hue Jackson on Saturday said second-year quarterback Cody Kessler will open OTAs next week as the team's No. 1 signal-caller, adding that the former USC standout made significant improvement during the offseason.

"That's really why I brought his name up first," Jackson said. "He's really improved. He's worked his tail off. He deserves the right and the opportunity to walk into this building and walk out there first."

Jackson, though, made clear Kessler have to compete against his fellow quarterbacks in Kevin Hogan, former Texans starter Brock Osweiler and former Notre Dame standout DeShone Kizer, whom the Browns drafted in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft last month.  

If they want to be starting quarterback, Jackson said, then "they have to take it" from Kessler, who started eight games in 2016. "They better take it from him," he said, "because — I know him — he's not going to give it up."

Kessler, who was thrust into the starting lineup last year because of injuries, showed plenty of pluck and poise, completing 66 percent of his passes for 1,380 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. But he was ultimately unable to guide the Browns to a win as a starter and struggled at times to push the ball downfield.

"There are things that you do really well and there are things that you really need to work on," Kessler said last month, reflecting on rookie year.

"At the end of the day, good and bad, it's definitely stuff you can learn from (and) self-scout yourself. That's something that I spent a lot of time on this offseason was watching myself in different games and different situations, whether it was short yardage, third down or red zone and seeing what I need to improve on."

Kessler, who scribbled notes and goals while critiquing last year's film, said he spent "countless hours"  working out to be stronger and more deliberate with his throws.

"That is something that I really worked on and had a big emphasis on. I continued to work on the short and intermediate gains, moving and being comfortable in the pocket, moving around but as well as stepping into a throw and getting my back foot under me more so you can push it more down the field and getting everything into the throw instead of falling off."

The team practices at the training facility in Berea.

Another new face in the room is Osweiler, whom the Browns acquired via an unconventional trade in which they also received Houston's second-round pick in 2018. Osweiler, who helped pace the playoff-bound Texans but threw more interceptions than touchdowns, will receive a fair shot in Cleveland.

"Like I said from the beginning, if a guy is in our locker room, we are going to treat him like any of our other players – that is the right way to handle it – and give him an opportunity to compete and see what they bring to the table," Jackson said.

Kizer zipped the ball plenty at rookie minicamp this past weekend. But the 21-year-old is still a work in progress --- whether it's refining his mechanics or learning the playbook -- following an inconsistent final year at Notre Dame.

"He takes coaching well," Jackson said. "I'm not babying him – that's for sure – because the other teams won't baby him, either. He just has to get used to it, and I think he has. He has been outstanding that way.

"He gets it. He knows that my charge for him is a consistency level at a high level all of the time, and that is not going to happen in two days," he continued. "I don't expect it to happen in two days. How long is it going to take? I don't know that, but I know we are going to do everything we can to get him there."

That's why, Jackson said, Kizer and all of the quarterbacks will receive ample reps in practice.

"The only way to get better is to get reps," he said. "We'll get these guys reps, and (Kizer) has to get some because I have to continue to evaluate him."

Added Jackson: "It'll be fun. That is what competition is all about. Until someone takes something from someone and shows that they can do it at a high level, play in and play out, then we have to keep going in the direction where we're traveling."

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