GREEN BAY – It’s the age-old debate regarding quarterback development.
Will a young signal-caller be better off in the long run if he gets thrown into the fire right away, initial results be damned, or if he gets to sit back for a few years and learn from one of the game’s best?
DeShone Kizer is not the one to settle the debate, because if there’s such a thing as getting the best of both worlds, he’ll eventually be Exhibit A.
Thrust into a starting job as a rookie with the Browns last year, Kizer predictably struggled. He went 0-15 as a starter on a team that was missing its Hall of Fame left tackle and star wide receiver for most of the season. He threw twice as many interceptions as touchdown passes.
But, as his new QB coach Frank Cignetti said, “There’s no substitute for experience,” and that’s what Kizer now possesses as he makes the landmark shift to backing up a future Hall of Famer in Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
“Last year I quickly became the veteran in the room,” Kizer said of his rookie season in Cleveland as a second-round draft pick from Notre Dame. “After six, seven starts I had the most experience out there.
“This is an opportunity now to see it from a player’s perspective, a guy who’s been in here and experienced success within this league, and do whatever I can to find the intricacies within the game that I can develop myself.”
Acquired from the Browns in a trade for cornerback Damarious Randall in March, Kizer was brought in to improve the Packers’ quarterback room. Once training camp rolls around in late July, he’ll be in a full-fledged competition with Brett Hundley for the No. 2 job behind Rodgers.
That competition is not foremost on his mind right now, though, as he’s trying to digest his third offensive system in a span of three years. It’s a lot to process while also trying to learn from an accomplished star quarterback, an opportunity he wasn’t afforded as a 21-year-old trying to lead a rebuilding team in 2017.
There are two avenues to learning from Rodgers – by asking the two-time MVP questions, and by observing his every move. With his locker just two stalls away from Rodgers’, and with daily meetings through OTAs and the mid-June minicamp, there’s ample opportunity to pick Rodgers’ brain.
But Kizer admitted he’ll absorb just as much if not more without saying a word and keeping his eyes glued to every practice snap and film session.
“Discipline is everything. I mean, every time the guy takes a rep, every time he takes his drop, it’s the exact same way,” Kizer said. “If you go back and watch my film, you can see that I was adjusting things throughout the year. Obviously that comes with time.”
Fundamentally speaking, Kizer is working on a different style of footwork in Mike McCarthy’s QB school. That’s a significant adjustment in itself, because the footwork is timed to every aspect of every play in McCarthy’s West Coast-style offense.
The more comfortable he gets with that, the more he’ll be able to let the athletic talents in his 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame take over.
“He’s attentive, he’s bright, he’s very, very hardworking,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “I like the development I’ve seen.”
Kizer also recognizes it’s his job to help Rodgers any way he can from week to week once the regular season starts, but what form that assistance will take remains to be seen.
Like the looming camp competition, those are thoughts for down the road. For now, Kizer is simply making the switch from one method of quarterback development to another, and planning on being better for having gone through both.
“In this league, you can learn one of two ways, by fire or from watching,” he said. “I was out in the fire and learned quite a bit about myself, a lot about what it takes to win in this league.
“Now it's about making sure that I take those experiences, learn from them and the next time I step back out there on an NFL field during the regular season that I'm in a better position to win a game."