BEREA, Ohio — Brock Osweiler has risen from trade throw-in to preseason starter.
The Browns’ never-ending quarterback saga has produced yet another surprise.
Cleveland coach Hue Jackson picked Osweiler over Cody Kessler, rookie DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan to start Thursday’s exhibition opener against the New Orleans Saints in what will be an important stage in a QB competition that’s midway through its second week, with no end in sight.
Jackson said he chose Osweiler primarily because he’s got NFL experience and he wants to give both Kessler and Kizer more playing time.
“It’s best for me to trot Brock out there, see if he can go lead this offense and lead the team and in the process keep getting these young guys more reps,” Jackson said following Monday’s practice. “They just need to play. DeShone needs to play more. Cody needs to play more and Kevin needs to play more, and I thought this is the way to do it.”
As for who will start Cleveland’s opener on Sept. 10 against Pittsburgh, Jackson insisted he hasn’t made up his mind.
“This thing is not over by any stretch,” he said.
Osweiler, who started 14 games for Houston last season, had a solid practice while taking his first snaps with Cleveland’s starting offense. He completed several long passes, including a deep one to wide receiver Corey Coleman, who made a one-handed grab.
“Brock knows how to play,” said Jackson, who added he met with the Browns’ front office executives before making the call. “He’s very conscientious. He works extremely hard. He’s gained a lot of respect in the locker room because of the way he prepares, so he did a good job today and obviously it’s his first opportunity with those guys so we just need to keep fine-tuning some things.”
When the Browns acquired Osweiler in March, taking him and his guaranteed $16 million contract simply so they could get a 2018 second-round pick, it appeared the 26-year-old wouldn’t be in Cleveland for long.
But Osweiler is still around, and he could wind up beating out Kessler and Kizer, the team’s presumed future QB.
“This league gives you opportunities,” Osweiler said. “Sometimes, you don’t know when they’re going to come. Sometimes, you do know when they’re going to come. I think the key is making the most out of that opportunity, and if you do, the rest will take care of itself.”
Osweiler has impressed the Browns with his attitude, work ethic and leadership. He went 8-6 during his one season with Houston but didn’t connect with coach Bill O’Brien, and the Texans were eager to move him before striking the deal with Cleveland.
There’s no guarantee the Browns won’t shop him, too. Miami coach Adam Gase, who coached Osweiler in Denver, reportedly reached out to Cleveland last week after Ryan Tannehill injured his knee. The Dolphins signed Jay Cutler on Monday.
Osweiler isn’t taking any extra satisfaction in working his way onto the depth chart — and now up it.
“No gratification,” he said. “This is just one step. There’s a lot of chemistry to be built. There are a lot of fine details that need to be cleaned up through meetings and more practice sessions.”
Osweiler played the best of Cleveland’s four QBs on Friday night in a scrimmage at FirstEnergy Stadium. He led his team to two field goals, and Jackson said that performance factored into his decision to start him Thursday.
Kizer, who missed a wide-open touchdown pass during the scrimmage, said it’s critical for one of the quarterbacks to step forward.
“It’s very vital,” said the former Notre Dame starter. “There needs to be a pecking order in order for the leadership to happen the way it needs to. … Brock was named that guy, and this week he’s already out there running things the way he needs to run them as a true one quarterback, and if that guy does happen to change to a new guy, then that guy needs to step in that week and treat it as if it’s his team.”
Kessler has had a disappointing camp despite showing better arm strength and being in great shape. He went 0-8 as a rookie starter last season when he got pushed into the lineup because of injuries to Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown. Kessler came into camp as the man to beat, but he’s been inconsistent and seems to have slipped behind Osweiler and Kizer.
“My job is to put the best guy out there that’s going to give us a chance,” Jackson said. “I’m not saying that Cody still can’t be that guy. But right now, what I’m feeling is, let’s go in a different direction.”