For DeShone Kizer, step back could be a long-term step forward with Packers
GREEN BAY — When DeShone Kizer decided to leave Notre Dame following his redshirt sophomore year, more than a few NFL scouts thought he would have benefitted from another year in school — even after starting two seasons at quarterback for the Fighting Irish.
Instead, he went to the Cleveland Browns in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft, and wound up starting 15 games for the winless Browns as a rookie last season. It was about as harsh a welcome-to-the-real-world experience as he could’ve gotten.
Now, the Green Bay Packers’ new backup quarterback has an opportunity to go back to school, in a sense — and audit a master’s class taught by two-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers after being forced into a veteran’s role in the Browns’ quarterback room last year as a rookie.
“I think it’s going to definitely help my development,” Kizer said during a conference call with reporters Friday, two weeks after being traded from the Browns to the Packers for cornerback Damarious Randall and a flip-flop of draft picks. “Obviously (in Cleveland) I quickly became the veteran in the room. There wasn’t necessarily a guy who could teach me the ins and outs of how to deal with press (coverage), how to deal with the losing that was going on, how to deal with the veterans in the (locker) room and the dynamic of the locker room.
“So being behind Aaron, it’s going to be cool to be able to learn that. … (Now) I get to learn from somebody who’s had a lot of success and, obviously, is known as one of the better quarterbacks in this league and one of the better quarterbacks to ever play this game. Now I get to take a step back, learn from him, re-evaluate my process as a quarterback and do whatever I can to help this team win and obviously develop myself into the best quarterback that I can be.”
That’s not to say Kizer agrees that he should’ve stayed in school — “You can’t learn how to be an NFL quarterback from a college situation,” he pointed out — but he acknowledged last season was challenging, experiencing growing pains while trying to lead a struggling team. He completed just 52 percent of his passes, throwing 11 touchdowns against a league-high 22 interceptions (60.5 passer rating).
With the Packers, he’ll compete with fourth-year backup Brett Hundley — after Hundley struggled plenty himself in 10 starts last season after Rodgers broke his right collarbone — for the No. 2 job behind Rodgers. He admitted he was “very surprised” when the Browns, under new general manager John Dorsey and fellow ex-Packers personnel staffers Eliot Wolf and Alonzo Highsmith, decided to trade him, but he sees nothing but opportunity ahead even if he’s no longer a starter.
“This offseason, (I was) trying to develop as much as I can and learn from everything that I went through last year in Cleveland and was trying to prepare myself to go back and become a better quarterback and get to winning in Cleveland,” Kizer said. “When stuff like this happens, you really can’t be prepared for it.
“But, obviously, very excited now. I think it’s going to be an awesome opportunity to take a step back and learn from some great developers and be around some great competitors and get back to winning the way I know how to.”
Tramon Williams was back in green and gold Friday — literally. The veteran cornerback, who started 110 games (including playoffs) from 2007 through 2014 before spending the last three seasons with the Browns (2015, ’16) and Arizona Cardinals (2017), wore a green suit with a yellow pocket square to Lambeau Field to sign his new contract with his old team.
NFL Network reported Williams’ deal is for two years and is worth roughly $10 million.
Last season, Williams, who turned 35 last week, was the second-oldest cornerback in the NFL behind 39-year-old Terence Newman, who played in 16 games with Minnesota. Williams played well for the Cardinals, seeing action in 13 games and moving into the starting lineup for the final nine games. He finished with 41 tackles, two interceptions and 12 pass break-ups, and having played for new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine in Cleveland in 2015, his veteran presence will be invaluable as the Packers transition to a new scheme.
With 32 career interceptions — sixth-most among active players — he also should bring a playmaking knack that the Packers, who had just 11 interceptions last season, could use.
“You don’t have as many interceptions as he has in the NFL and not play with great awareness,” former Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher said late last season. “You see it when he’s jumped routes and you’re like ‘Why was he doing that?’ He knew what was coming. That’s how he could play them and play them aggressively. He attacks, he takes chances. I love it.”