DeShone Kizer showed promise and poise in Sunday's season opener.
The rookie quarterback was one of several bright spots in the Browns' 21-18 loss to the Steelers, helping engineer a late rally that ultimately fell short.
When it was all said and done, Kizer — the former Notre Dame star and second-round NFL Draft pick — passed for 222 yards, a touchdown to Corey Coleman with under four minutes to play and ran for another earlier in the game.
"At the end of the day, this young man gives us hope," head coach Hue Jackson said Monday.
"He gives you an opportunity to make plays. When I looked up, the game was 21-10 and here we are in the fourth quarter with a chance to win the game late in the game and that's because of some plays he made, so that's what you expect out of your quarterback."
Kizer showed off his arm talent, athleticism and composure in the pocket throughout the afternoon and nearly lifted Cleveland to its first win in a home opener since 2004.
But it was a throw to second-year receiver Ricardo Louis, Jackson said, that offered a window into Kizer's ongoing developmental process. Trailing 21-10, he tossed a 29-yard strike to Louis through Pittsburgh's zone coverage with six minutes to play. The Browns scored five plays later and cut the deficit to three points.
"I think the ball that he threw to Ricardo was outstanding. I think there was a couple underneath throws where everybody – he had worked through progression," Jackson said. "It's those kind of things that he's doing, so it shows me he is not just playing pick a guy and throw the ball to him. He's working within our system, within our progressions and getting the ball to the right people."
"I thought he showed great poise in the pocket," Louis added. "With all of the things going on around him, it's really easy to get distracted and lose focus and make mistakes, but he had limited mistakes. He made some decisions that propelled him to make more plays, and I thought that showed a lot of confidence in his preparation."
To be certain, both Kizer and Jackson will tell you Sunday was an imperfect performance. Kizer was sacked seven times and tossed an errant pass late in the third quarter that was intercepted by Steelers rookie linebacker T.J. Watt.
Kizer shrugged when asked what throws he liked on film, saying "quite frankly, we're in a position now where I'm just trying to learn from my mistakes more than being excited about all of the good ones."
"There's a lot of room for improvement. In that game, I think there were some things to key in on for this week. Obviously, one big thing we are focusing on is making sure that I'm getting rid of the ball as fast as I possibly can, and trying to continue to have some drives that keep our defense off of the field. They are playing as well as they are, it is our job on offense to make sure they get the proper rest on the sideline before they get back out there."
Jackson said those kind of mistakes, though, are to be expected from the 21-year-old in his first regular season game. "There's a process that these guys go through, and he is in it. I am not surprised by what happened yesterday," he said.
"Now, it's how fast can we get him on the other side of it. That's the challenge, and I think we'll work through that. This guy, like I said to you guys yesterday, he has the right feel. He understands things. He sees it. We speak the same kind of language that way. I think he'll get to it and make those changes quicker. I do believe that."
After facing the Steelers, the road won't get any easier as the Browns travel to Baltimore, which held Cincinnati to 221 yards and forced five turnovers, next weekend.
Jackson struck a balance between optimism and patience as Kizer continues to grow on and off the field.
"We're talking about a young rookie quarterback who is one of the youngest players in the league at that position, so that's exciting for me. I think it is exciting for our organization," he said.
"Now, that was one game. He has to continue to grow and get better and continue to show improvement and progress week in and week out, but we played against a good football team yesterday. That wasn't somebody that just walked in and played against us, that was the Pittsburgh Steelers and I thought he represented himself well. Now, he just has to continue to get better."