Cleveland Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer celebrates after a 1-yard touchdown in the first half of an NFL preseason game Monday in Cleveland. ASSOCIATED PRESS
CLEVELAND — Anyone who did not stare into the sky Monday can see the future of the Browns is DeShone Kizer.
If the Central Catholic graduate is not their next franchise quarterback — and he can be — he is the next in line.
And maybe sooner than later.
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Kizer confirmed Monday night in his national TV debut against the Giants why he is the people’s choice in Cleveland’s latest quarterback conflict.
But while life outside the lines is a democracy — more on the Browns’ anthem protest in a moment — life between the lines is not. A Browns franchise forever in a rush to the bottom should keep playing it slow with Kizer.
I know the wait is hard.
Kizer only added another layer of fog to the proceedings in the Browns’ 10-6 win. He again outperformed starter and veteran frontrunner Brock Osweiler, whose two drives yielded one interception and — again — zero points. And, at the least, Kizer makes this Browns team so much more compelling.
Checking in for the third series, Kizer balanced natural growing pains — he holds the ball too long too often — with flares of his unnatural promise. He barreled for a long first-down run. Lasered passes. Trucked into the end zone on a sneak. Made things from nothing. He completed 8 of 13 passes for 74 yards and rushed for 35 yards on five carries.
Which is not to mention perhaps his most impressive moment. That was before the game when he stood by his teammates.
A week after coach Hue Jackson told reporters he hoped his players would not kneel during the national anthem, a dozen or so Browns players did just that, continuing the protest against racial inequality kindled last year by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
A huddled group that included Jabrill Peppers, Jamie Collins, and Kenny Britt knelt during the anthem while a second band of players — Kizer included — stood to the side with a supportive hand on their bowed teammate’s shoulders.
No matter what you make of the method — nothing inspires more extreme opinions and interpretations — this corner always will admire athletes who do not merely “stick to sports” in the belief our nation can do better, who see a world beyond the offend-nobody corporate school of Michael “Republicans Buy Sneakers, Too” Jordan.
“This is obviously a very sensitive subject in our country right now,” Kizer said. “I saw an opportunity with my guys to support them. ... They decided they were going to pray. At a time when our country is all over the place in the sense of human rights and the racist movements, I decided it was right to join my brothers who decided to take a knee by supporting them when they were praying.”
As for the sports, dare we say the Browns are starting to resemble a real-life NFL franchise.
Sure, from the outside, they might still seem the dog chasing a squirrel, aimless in their pursuit of a headline passer. Cody Kessler’s fade to third in a two-man race assures the tilt-a-whirl will spin on when Cleveland opens the season Sept. 10 against the Steelers. For those scoring at home, the Browns are set to unveil their league-high 27th starting quarterback since 1999 — one fewer than the Patriots have fielded in their 58-year history — and the 10th since 2013.
But the Browns appear to have a plan for Kizer, recognizing — or they should — Osweiler’s defects and Kizer’s development must be viewed independently. You do not fix one mistake with another, shoving a 21-year-old into action ahead of his time. Cleveland has been down that road too many times before. (See: Manziel, et al.) Our entirely too wishful suggestion remains waiting until Nov. 12 at Detroit — the week after a bye — to roll out Kizer for good.
“If the guy is not ready,” Jackson said before the game, “I think it is hard to put a young man out there because of so many different reasons.”
Now, maybe Jackson decides he is ready. Kizer has certainly played well enough to win the starting job. A decision will be made Wednesday.
But here’s hoping the Browns continue to show rare restraint. Kizer already is proving the wait should be worth it.