DeShone Kizer and the Browns defense pass the test in preseason Game 3

The Cleveland Browns headed into Game 3 of the preseason – the dress rehearsal – in the shadow of the pirate ship on the road in Tampa. The Buccaneers actually have a pirate ship in their stadium to go along with their moniker. Despite the pirate theme that should serve to intimidate, the Browns seemed quite comfortable in the confines of Raymond James Stadium.

The Browns’ defense did well to get pressure on Jameis Winston. Once again they appeared fast and tough as they rushed to the running game, hit hard in the secondary, and even scored a turnover thanks to a Jabrill Peppers interception and return from deep in Browns territory. Myles Garrett met Jamie Collins at the quarterback that was so quick the Browns got to decline the hold on the play as well. Christian Kirksey, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Derek Kindred showed up in Jameis Winston’s backfield as well a couple of times. The defense, once again, turns out to be the highlight of this team.

DeShone Kizer is a rookie, and he plays like one. He keys in on receivers and tries to let his big arm do the talking, even when the window has already closed. He suffered an interception in the second quarter on third-and-long after a (mystery) penalty against Corey Coleman. He easily could have thrown another one in the two-minute drill at the end of the first half. That is normal for any rookie. What isn’t normal is how well he generally commands the Browns offense. For all the rookie-ish things, there are back-shoulder throws and patient presence on broken plays resulting in smart throwaways or impressive completions.

Speaking of which, Corey Coleman was trying to justify his prior draft position in this game alone. Coleman showed speed, hands and great timing on sideline routes. He highlighted his half with a 32-yard reception and appeared to be the kind of playmaker the Browns were trying to get when they called his name on draft day. Even with those highlights, the Browns couldn’t seem to put an entire drive together with the interception and a Duke Johnson fumble. Despite that, the defense was able to keep them in the game with a measly 3-0 for the majority of the first half. In the end the Bucs tied it on the last play of the first half.

For all our purposes that was the end of this game as Cody Kessler and many other backups started the second half.

We can’t get out of this without discussing quarterback one more time. Kizer is easily the best option on the Browns, but I still can’t help but wonder if the team wouldn’t be better off with one solid veteran option to begin the season. That’s not what they have, so they’ll have to deal with rookie play and a limited playbook. It will be a test of Kizer, Hue Jackson, and the Cleveland Browns running game. Unlike a season ago, Hue Jackson will have to find ways to not forget about the running game. He’s going to have to remember to protect the NFL’s youngest quarterback, DeShone Kizer.

With the fourth and most meaningless preseason game forthcoming, it’s time to say that the preseason was pretty successful. For the dress rehearsal, the Browns passed the test. It wasn’t an A or even a B+, but it was probably a low B or high C. The Browns can play in spurts, but we have no idea how they’ll respond late in the third quarter in a game where they’ve battled hard to keep it close or retain a small lead. Will the defense hold up after halftime, let alone late in the second half with the game on the line? The Browns proved that they might have players talented enough to do it, but until they do it in a game that counts, it’s a question mark.