Browns' Kizer gets first taste of NFL against Steelers
The Cleveland Browns, always with an eye on the future, are hopeful the 2017 season opener will be a glimpse of the future when rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer throws his first pass against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Coach Hue Jackson chose Kizer as his starter because no one else in the competition -- Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler or Kevin Hogan -- did anything to stake a claim to the job.
Kizer's task in the opener is a formidable one. Browns left guard Joel Bitonio is warning the rookie from Notre Dame to expect anything and everything from the Steelers' blitz.
"My first NFL start was against the Steelers in Pittsburgh," Bitonio said. "Pittsburgh is one of those teams you see and a lot of people talk about.
"He's played at Notre Dame. He's played in big games, but when he takes that first snap Sunday, it's going to be a wakeup call, but I think he's going to be ready for it. It's going to be a moment like, 'I'm in the NFL. I'm playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers.' But all the work he's put in, all the prep he's done, I think he's ready for it."
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh's starting quarterback since the Steelers drafted him from Miami University in 2004, is 20-2 starting against the Browns. He is 10-1 in Cleveland.
"He is very good above the neck," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday on a conference call. "He knows what's required to be prepared. He aids the growth and development of those around him. He does all of the things that you would expect a guy at his position to do, and he does it very naturally and does it very well."
The defense carried the Browns to a 4-0 preseason record, but the test it faces Sunday will be much sterner than anything faced in August, and Cleveland might be without rookie defensive end Myles Garrett. The first pick in the 2017 draft sustained an ankle injury in practice Wednesday.
"I don't want to make medical decisions," Jackson said. "I'm not very good at them, so we'll see where we are as we move through the week."
Four quarters of Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell will be more challenging than anything the Browns faced in preseason.
There are other plot twists to the opener, too. Joe Haden, the Browns' first-round draft pick in 2010, is now playing cornerback for the Steelers after being cut by Cleveland last week. Wide receiver Sammie Coates is with the Browns after being acquired from the Steelers on Sept. 2 for a sixth-round draft pick.
Coates is one of three receivers added to the Browns' roster after the conclusion of the preseason. The others are waiver additions -- Kasen Williams from the Seattle Seahawks and Reggie Davis from the Atlanta Falcons.
Coates, a 2015 third-round draft choice by the Steelers, had an inconsistent two years in Pittsburgh. He played with two broken fingers last season and was stuck with a label of dropping catchable passes. He acknowledged that but wants to show the Steelers they made a mistake by giving up on him.
"It's just a good time to start over," Coates said. "You go somewhere new, you see new faces, so it's always an opportunity and you have to take advantage of it.
"If somebody trades you, you want to showcase your talent against them, show them what they're missing. If we win, (Tomlin) is going to walk off the field. He's not going to want to see me."
It isn't all bitterness for Coates, though, who shrugged off going from a Super Bowl contender to a team that finished 1-15 a year ago. Coates said he is grateful to the Steelers for giving him the opportunity to play in the NFL.
The Browns head into the opener in good health, excluding the unknown status of Garrett. Bitonio and defensive tackle Danny Shelton missed the final three preseason games with knee injuries, but both are expected to start against the Steelers.
The Steelers listed backup tackle Jerald Hawkins (knee, limited) as the only player on their Wednesday injury report.
Updated September 6, 2017