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DeShone Kizer knows 'awesome opportunity' requires continued improvement

DeShone Kizer never had a meeting at Notre Dame like the one he had Wednesday with Hue Jackson.

When he became the Fighting Irish's starter, it was because of an injury to the signal-caller in front of him. He had to rise to the challenge in the moment and maintain a job he'd ultimately hold for two seasons.

That's the mentality Kizer is carrying after he learned Wednesday he'd be the Browns starting quarterback for Saturday's "dress rehearsal" game at Tampa Bay.

"This is an awesome opportunity," Kizer said after Wednesday's walk-through. "Obviously, when I first became the starter at Notre Dame it was because of an unfortunate injury to another guy, but to come out here, to work hard and to earn an opportunity to be a starter here is a dream come true. There is only 32 guys who are going to step out and be starters for the third preseason week and I am going to be one of them."

The goal now is for Kizer to remain one of the 32 when the season kicks off Sept 10 against the Steelers. He'd become the first Browns rookie quarterback to start the season opener since 2012, when Brandon Weeden won the job out of training camp.

Kizer is "certainly positioning himself well to earn the starting job heading into the regular season," Browns coach Hue Jackson said in a statement Wednesday morning, but there's work to do before that becomes official.

"Obviously, I will be the first guy taking snaps this week and it is going to take a full room to allow me to continue to have that success that I have had these last couple weeks," Kizer said. "This preparation comes from all four of us in there working together and obviously one guy steps out their first, but every guy has been in these last couple weeks, so for me, I think the biggest thing to do is continue to build off of what I have been doing and continue to become more comfortable and more confident and just keep letting it rip."

Kizer's confidence has grown from the moment he arrived in Berea as a second-round pick out of Notre Dame.

Promised nothing when it came to his playing time as a rookie, Kizer started from the bottom of Cleveland's quarterback depth chart and methodically worked his way to the top. As a member of the third-team offense, Kizer also picked up numerous snaps with the first-teamers in practice and thrived in Cleveland's preseason opener, throwing for 181 yards and a game-winning touchdown against the Saints. After he was elevated to the second team behind Brock Osweiler, Kizer battled through some ups and downs against the Giants defense before leading the Browns to their only 10 points in Monday's victory.

His preseason performance, though, was only a smart part of the process that led to this moment.

"This process that Coach Jackson told me the first day I was drafted has been dead on, straight on," Kizer said. "There has been open communication. I have taken it, the gradual ride up and I think that has helped me big time in my confidence in understanding a different position. From being a rookie, to rookie camp, working in with the ones and then being the third quarterback and the second quarterback to first allowed me to grow my confidence to be able to step up there now and potentially hold onto that starting job."

He'll have the full arsenal of Cleveland's first-team offense by his side in a preseason game that promises to see the Browns' starters play deep into the game. Left tackle Joe Thomas will make his preseason debut and running back Isaiah Crowell is expected to return after missing Monday's game with a groin injury.

Kizer made it clear he understands the importance of the challenge he faces in his latest step as a rookie quarterback.

"Anytime you are stepping in and anytime you have a rep there is a little bit of added pressure, in the sense that you are looking to not only gain the respect of the coaches, but the players around you," Kizer said. "I am looking to gain the respect of the coaches and the players every time I am out there."

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