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NFL morning after: Week One is so much fun

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Football is back. Can you believe it?

Can you believe the day’s two biggest favorites, the Patriots and Colts, had to come from behind in the fourth quarter to beat the Bills and Raiders?

Can you believe the Giants turned the ball over three times in the first six minutes on Sunday night?

Can you believe that Adrian Peterson ran for a 78-yard touchdown the first time he touched the ball — and then gained just 15 yards on 17 carries the rest of the way?

Can you believe that Tyrann Mathieu needed only one quarter as an NFL player to make exactly the kind of ball-hawking play he was famous for at LSU, stripping Jared Cook to save a touchdown?

Can you believe that the beleaguered Jets actually won their opener, in the most ridiculous manner possible, with a Buccaneers penalty setting up the game-winning field goal?

Can you believe that three different games started with safeties and had scores of 2-0 in the first quarter?

Can you believe Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor, with 112 rushing yards, is currently the NFL’s leading rusher?

This is why Week One of the NFL season is so much fun: We go from no football at all for seven months to 10 games at once, and about a hundred things you never expected all happening simultaneously. About two hours after kickoff of the early games on Sunday, I was so exhausted just trying to follow it all that I wasn’t sure if I’d make it for the nine hours or so of football that were still ahead of us.

But I made it, just like you did, just like millions of Americans who have been desperate for the return of the NFL, who spent all day Sunday on their couches obsessing about football and wondering how we survived these long months without it.

Here’s what went through my mind as I watched it all unfold:

Is it too much to ask that the officials know the rules? Referee Bill Leavy admitted after the 49ers beat the Packers that he and his crew had wrongly given the 49ers a free play, calling it third down after offsetting penalties when it should have been fourth down. The 49ers used that extra down to score a touchdown, and the Packers have every right to be furious about it. It’s one thing for an official to miss a call because he didn’t have a good angle to see it. It’s much worse for the officials to get a ruling like that wrong, even after they had time to review and discuss it.

Ndamukong Suh needs to get a grip. The season just started, but Suh was in midseason form when it came to costly penalties for illegal hits: Suh drilled Vikings center John Sullivan in the knee after DeAndre Levy intercepted a pass, drawing a penalty that cost the Lions a touchdown on Levy’s return. There was absolutely no reason for Suh to hit Sullivan (Levy was already well past him), and it was yet another example of Suh hurting his team while trying to hurt an opponent. Suh had a good game for most of the day: He pressured Christian Ponder into an interception, and he was a big part of a stout defensive effort that saw the Lions bottle up Adrian Peterson for most of the game. But a good game most of the day isn’t good enough. Suh needs to cool it, and if he can’t, Lions coach Jim Schwartz needs to bench him.

The Jaguars may be worse than last year. And last year they were 2-14. Jacksonville simply couldn’t do anything against the Chiefs, who looked like a much better team than a year ago with new coach Andy Reid running the show. I don’t even know what to say about the Jaguars, but I will note that they were the first team in NFL history to lose a game by the score of 28-2. So, there’s that.

Anquan Boldin was the best player in the NFL on Sunday. Boldin is a perfect fit in the 49ers’ offense, and they desperately needed him to step up when No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree went down. Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome has a great track record of making the right personnel calls, but after a Week One in which Boldin caught 13 passes for 208 yards and the Ravens got whipped by the Broncos, I wonder if Newsome is thinking he should have found a way to make room for Boldin under the Ravens’ salary cap, instead of trading him to San Francisco.

Calvin Johnson had a touchdown overturned on the Calvin Johnson rule. Johnson made a leaping catch at the 1-yard line, stuck the ball across the goal line, then fell to the ground and had the ball wobble when he hit the ground. The official on the field ruled it a touchdown. The referee looked at the replay and changed the call to incomplete pass. Johnson has been here in Week One before, having an apparently game-winning touchdown catch overturned in the opener against the Bears three years ago. He’s probably getting sick of the rule that bears his name.

Kellen Winslow lives! Kellen Winslow caught exactly one pass all year in 2012. You could be forgiven if you thought Winslow was done. But he’s not done, not by a long shot. Winslow had seven catches for 79 yards and a touchdown and was the Jets’ best offensive playmaker in their win over the Buccaneers. Winslow’s bad knee will never allow him to be the kind of player he looked like he’d be coming out of college, but he still has something left, and he’ll be a great security blanked for rookie quarterback Geno Smith.

Danny Amendola did what Danny Amendola does. The Patriots’ new go-to receiver did both of the things people thought he’d do: He caught a bunch of passes (10 for 104 yards) and he got hurt (missing some time with a strained groin). If Amendola can stay healthy, he’s going to be a great fit for Tom Brady and Co. But given Amendola’s history, that’s a big “if.”

The Saints are in first place in the NFC South. Last year, the Saints’ defense was a debacle. Through one game this year, the Saints are 1-0 and the rest of the NFC South is 0-1, and the New Orleans defense looked good in the opener against Atlanta. Sean Payton is back, and the Saints are back.

Have you ever heard of Cid Edwards? Edwards was a good-but-not-great running back for the Cardinals, Chargers and Bears in the 1960s and 1970s. He never had 1,000 yards in a season, never made a Pro Bowl, never was an important player on a playoff team. So why am I bringing up Cid Edwards today? Because in 1972, in his first game with the Chargers, Edwards had 100 receiving yards and 97 rushing yards. No other NFL player had ever reached 100 receiving yards and 90 rushing yards in his first game with a new team until Sunday, when Reggie Bush had 101 receiving yards and 90 rushing yards in his first game with the Lions. Bush is a perfect fit in the Lions’ offense, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him lead the league in yards from scrimmage this season.

All Larry Fitzgerald needs is a competent quarterback. Fitzgerald doesn’t need a good quarterback — which is a good thing, because I’m not sure that Carson Palmer, at age 33, still qualifies as a good quarterback. But Palmer is at least a competent quarterback, and you couldn’t even say that for any of the other quarterbacks the Cardinals have had since Kurt Warner retired (Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, Brian Hoyer, Derek Anderson and Max Hall). Now that Fitzgerald has someone competent throwing him the ball, expect him to resume putting up big numbers. Fitzgerald scored two touchdowns on Sunday after scoring only four touchdowns all season last year.

We have 16 more of these Sundays. Yesterday was a lot of fun. We have a lot more fun ahead of us.

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Kirk Cousins on contract: “Deadlines do deals”

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Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins has been around long enough to know that, when it comes to NFL contracts, procrastination is a way of life.

“As one person has told me, deadlines do deals,” Cousins told reporters on Wednesday. “That’s just kind of a rule in negotiating, so why would something happen way before a deadline? It just doesn’t make sense. I’m not in a hurry, they’re not in a hurry, so we’ll just see how things go. I’m being patient.”

Cousins has experience when it comes to the key deadline for signing a franchise-tagged player to a long-term deal; last year, July 15 came and went without a contract. That could be the case this year, too.

“I feel like when it comes to the contract, I have gotten reps now. I am getting used to answering questions and going through this now the second time through so I am not a rookie anymore when it comes to this stuff,” Cousins said. “It is a similar deal here too. It has been very positive. I have had really positive conversations with everybody involved throughout the process this offseason. I feel like everybody is on the same page and I really have nothing further to add to what has already been said. So I feel good about where I am at, where this team is at, where my teammates are at. And so it is just a matter of trying to move forward and we will see what happens come July 15. It will be a telling date as it was last summer.”

Asked about the stress of the contract situation, Cousins explained that he understands, from high school to college to now, he can only “go and play and see where the chips will land and try not to let it get to you.”

That’s a lot easier to do after having made $19.95 million last year and being due to make $23.94 million this year, along with $28-plus million or $34-plus million or a long-term deal from Washington or another team on the open market in 2018. The specific outcome will depend largely on how Cousins and the team perform in 2017; it will take a strong performance from both to get Washington to seriously consider pushing Cousins’ three-year haul from $44 million to more than $78 million.

If that’s what happen, Cousins will have done a lot better than he ever would have done if he’d signed a long-term deal during or after the expiration of his fourth-round rookie contract.

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Dak Prescott’s faster, stronger, quicker than last year

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A year ago, the bar was set pretty low for Dak Prescott: Come in, learn as much as you can from Tony Romo, and hopefully get enough reps to be a serviceable backup.

But even after an incredible rookie year, Prescott has managed to improve over the offseason.

According to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Cowboys quarterback has already improved, from a physical standpoint at least. Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said Prescott’s numbers in the offseason program for speed, strength and agility have all surpassed what he posted as a rookie.

“They tested last Monday,” Wilson said. “He has improved strength-wise, flexibility-wise, speed-wise, quickness-wise. He is not resting on anything that went on last year.”

Such gains are somewhat natural for a player who has been through the adjustment from college training to professional training, the kind of thing you expect after a year in a more intensive program. But Prescott’s head-down approach has also benefitted him.

“It’s just working hard continuously,” Prescott said. “That is how I have gotten to where I am in life. I’m not going to forget that and keep working hard. . . .

“I don’t look at what’s behind me. I look at where I can go and what I can do. The only way I know to do that is through hard work. That is something I continue to try to do.”

Of course, the improvement he needs is not limited to the physical traits. He’s going to be a year more experienced and has the ability to spend the offseason getting starter’s reps. He joked that he got two reps during his first practice of OTAs last year, but getting enough work won’t be an issue now.

The good news is, he’s physically ready for the burden.

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Giants add veteran safety Duke Ihenacho to the mix

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The Giants continue to build depth on defense, adding  a veteran safety to the mix as well.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Giants are signing safety Duke Ihenacho to go along with their addition of defensive end Devin Taylor.

The 27-year-old Ihenacho spent the last three seasons in Washington. Injuries limited him his first two seasons but he started 1o games last year.

The former undrafted rookie from San Jose State broke into the league with the Broncos.

He immediately adds some special teams presence and figures as a solid backup to Landon Collins.

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Goal post dunks remain against the rules

AP

Although the NFL has loosened the rules against celebrations, one restriction remains in place: Players can’t dunk the ball over the goal post.

NFL owners voted this week to roll back some of the league’s longstanding celebration penalties, including using the football as a prop. But according to ESPN the league still doesn’t allow dunking over the goal post because it considers that using the goal post as a prop, and because of the potential for delaying the game.

Then-Saints tight end Jimmy Graham delayed a game by about 20 minutes in 2013 when he dunked over a goal post and hit the cross bar in the process, knocking the goal post off-balance. The next offseason, the league banned dunks.

Graham criticized the league for that rule change, but it’s a rule the league feels strongly enough about that it will stay in place even after this week’s move to let players have a little more fun in the end zone.

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John Elway expects new contract to be finished before season

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John Elway has just one year remaining on his contract as General Manager and Vice Preside of Football Operations for the Denver Broncos. And despite the Broncos first expressing a desire to get Elway a new deal since the middle of the last season, Elway still is without an extension on his contract.

But Elway sees the issue as a formality.

According to Arnie Stapleton of the Associated Press, Elway fully expects a new contract will come together before the start of the season this fall.

We’re continuing to work at it. I don’t see any problems with that. I look forward to being here with the Broncos for a long time,” Elway said.

He later added that he’s “not going anywhere.”

The Hall of Fame quarterback has already cultivated a successful second career with the franchise after leading the team to two Super Bowl titles in the late 1990’s. Since taking over the job as G.M. in 2011, the Broncos have made the Super Bowl twice and won a third Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl 50 over the Carolina Panthers.

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Raiders are holding Marshawn Lynch out of OTAs, for now

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In some cities, there is wringing of hands and/or gnashing of teeth regarding the decision of key players to treat voluntary workouts as voluntary. In Oakland, the team is keeping recently-acquired running back Marshawn Lynch out of the OTA fray, for now.

He’s doing great, he’s doing great,” coach Jack Del Rio said, via Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com. “He’ll continue to do the things that we’re asking him to do. He’s really soaking up the system. He’s doing a great job fitting in.”

Although the Raiders are choosing not to put Lynch in a helmet and on the practice field, Del Rio knew that Lynch would show up for the Phase Three sessions.

“He said, ‘Coach, this is home for me, so it’s not like I’m going home and I won’t be here,’” Del Rio said. “He’s committed to being here. He’s excited to be a Raider. We’re excited to have him.”

For now, the Raiders don’t want to get too excited about rushing into action a running back who hasn’t played in more than a year. In time, we’ll all see Lynch wearing a silver helmet and pounding into and through the line.

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Joe Woods doesn’t plan to make major changes to Denver defense

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The Denver Broncos have a great defense. New defensive coordinator Joe Woods knows that, and he plans to keep it that way.

“The foundation of our defense is going to stay the same,” Woods told reporters on Wednesday. “Our first two years, we played a high level defense. We did a good job. There’s a few things that we definitely need to improve on. But my big deal is, I don’t want to come in and change the fingerprints or the foundation of our defense. All I said is I want to sprinkle a little sugar on it. It’s something that will give us a little change up, make offenses work at the line of scrimmage. That’s all we’re doing.”

One area that requires improvement relates to an uptick in first-drive points allowed in 2016. In all aspects of the game, linebacker Von Miller has faith in Woods.

“We’ve always had great defensive coordinators,” Miller told reporters. “From [Dennis Allen] to Jack [Del Rio] and Coach [Wade] Phillips, all of the defensive coordinators that we’ve had, we’ve always been good and we’ve always been able to rush the passer. Joe Woods has been with us for three years now. He knows us. He has a great mind. He knows how to relate to guys, especially the secondary. That’s the strength of our defense. He brings a calm voice. . . . It’s just a special environment here, especially on defense. We’ll come out here and work hard. Whatever happens, we’ll be OK with.”

The defense needs to be better than OK (along with the offense) if the team that won Super Bowl 50 and then missed the playoffs hopes to contend again in 2017.

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Rich McKay: Falcons stadium will be ready to go for August 26

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They can probably go ahead and tear down the Georgia Dome.

Falcons CEO and president Rich McKay tells PFT Live in an interview to be aired Thursday morning that the team’s new stadium will be ready to go for the preseason home opener, on August 26.

McKay also said there’s no truth to persistent rumors that the unique retractable roof will remain closed for the entirety of the first year of the stadium’s operation. McKay said that the unprecedented multi-piece roof, with an array of 500-ton segments that slide open and closed simultaneously, will function as planned in 2017.

The extended interview will McKay will be played in two parts, beginning at 7:00 a.m. ET and ending at 7:35 a.m. ET. In addition to discussion regarding the stadium, McKay answered a variety of questions regarding the rule changes passed earlier this week in Chicago, given that he also serves as the chairman of the Competition Committee.

Also joining Thursday’s show will be Bob Glauber of Newsday, who’ll have some things to say about the Giants, the Jets, and whatever else comes up.

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In response to Sheldon Richardson, Brandon Marshall takes the high road

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Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson took a shot at former teammate Brandon Marshall on Tuesday, saying that there were “15 reasons” for the team’s failures in 2016. Marshall responded by taking the high road.

“Last year was an extremely difficult season for all of us,” Marshall told Kimberly A. Martin of Newsday. “Players and coaches fought their tails off trying to get our season turned around and it didn’t happen for us. It was disappointing, but now it’s a fresh year for Sheldon, for myself, for the Jets, and now I’m a Giant and I’m so excited for this opportunity.”

Some would say it’s easy for Marshall to be positive, given that he now plays for a playoff team, and Richardson, who also called Marshall a “drama queen” and a “locker room cancer,” is still stuck with the Jets.

“I’m working my butt off to learn the plays,” Marshall said. “It’s like I’m starting all over again from scratch. I feel like a rookie, and I kind of like that feeling. And hopefully I can do my job this year to the best of my ability to bring that Lombardi Trophy back where it belongs. That’s my only focus right now and I’m excited to be a New York Football Giant.”

Bob Glauber of Newsday wasn’t as charitable as Marshall when it comes to Richardson.

“Richardson is hardly one to throw shade at a teammate, current or former, especially given his tenuous standing with the Jets,” Glauber writes. “He already has been suspended four games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, and was suspended for the first game of the 2016 season for violating the league’s Personal Conduct Policy. Last year’s sanction was in response to a July 2015 arrest for driving his 2014 Bentley Flying Spur at speeds up to 143 miles per hour near his home in suburban St. Louis. Police found a loaded semi-automatic handgun under a floor mat.”

Glauber says Richardson “was the much bigger problem than Marshall” last year, and that the Jets viewed Marshall as part of the solution, not part of the problem. Richardson remains part of the problem, which could be why the Jets continue to try to make him not part of the Jets.

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Blake Bortles knows he has to stop the stupid turnovers

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Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles threw 16 interceptions and lost six fumbles last season. He knows that’s not going to cut it on a Tom Coughlin-led team.

Bortles said at Jacksonville’s Organized Team Activities that his top priority right now is being safe with the football.

“If you don’t turn the ball over, you’ll win football games,” Bortles said, via Mike Kaye of WTLV. “That’s our focus. Turnovers are going to happen. We get that. You have to make sure to minimize them as much as possible and stay away from the stupid ones.”

Bortles said Coughlin, who became the Jaguars’ front office boss this offseason, is already making his presence felt.

“To have a guy like that in the building that you can talk to – I’m sure [Head Coach Doug Marrone], having another head coach in the building, a former head coach in the building who has been successful and has done some good thing – I think it’s good for everybody,” Bortles said. “It allows everybody to have somebody to talk to, to help out. He has a ton of good information.”

And atop that list of good information is that if you don’t take care of the football, you won’t be around for long.

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Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott did not suffer a concussion

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Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott sustained a head injury in an automobile accident on Sunday. The team insists that Elliott did not suffer a concussion.

Via the Associated Press, running backs coach Gary Brown said Wednesday that Elliott bumped his head during the accident, in which he was a passenger, but that Elliott did not sustain a brain injury.

Coach Jason Garrett said Elliott will miss Thursday’s OTA session due to lingering soreness and neck stiffness. He’s expected to practice with the team next week.

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Giants ink Devin Taylor

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Defensive end Devin Taylor started 16 games for the Lions last year, before becoming an unrestricted free agent. He lingered on the market longer than expected, but he now has landed with a new team.

Per a league source, the 27-year-old Taylor has agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the Giants.

Taylor had 4.5 sacks in 2016. A year earlier, with 15 games appearances and no starts, Taylor registered 7.0 sacks.

The Lions made Taylor, who played college football at South Carolina, a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft. He’s perhaps best known for drawing a controversial facemask penalty that gave the Packers one last heave to the end zone on a Thursday night in Detroit. Aaron Rodgers delivered a game-winning touchdown pass with a Hail Mary throw that nearly scraped the rafters at Ford Field.

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Browns hire Ryan Grigson

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Former Colts G.M. Ryan Grigson has found his new NFL home, in Cleveland.

Grigson has been hired by the Browns, joining the team he once gave a first-round draft pick for Trent Richardson.

“Ryan brings valuable experience to our personnel group,” Browns G.M. Sashi Brown said in a statement. “He was raised as a road-scout and has been evaluating talent in this league for almost 20 years. We place a premium on that experience and on his passion for football. Ryan has much to offer to any personnel department and we are pleased that he chose to join our staff.”

Grigson’s title in Cleveland will be Senior Personnel Executive. It’s his first job since being fired after five years as the G.M. in Indianapolis.

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Kenny Stills on possible 2017 anthem protest: “We’ll see when the time comes”

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stillAlthough unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick continues to be the name and face most commonly attached to last year’s National Anthem protests, plenty of other players followed his lead. Those players included Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills.

And while Kaepernick reportedly will be standing in 2017 (if/when he’s on an NFL team), Stills has made no such commitment. Asked by reporters on Wednesday whether Stills plans to engage in anthem protests in the coming season, Stills said this: “I guess we’ll see when the time comes. I’m doing my best to continue to work and make an impact in the community, and I feel like that’s the most important part about what I’m doing right now.”

It’s obvious that Stills, who signed a four-year, $32 million contract in the offseason, will do whatever he thinks he needs to do in order to make a positive impact — and that he would have done what he did last year even without the support of the organization.

“It was a relief that we knew that Mr. [Stephen] Ross was going to be standing behind us; but no, it was something that the decision that we made it was going to be something we were doing regardless,” Stills said. “And that’s no disrespect to the organization or Mr. Ross, but it’s something that we felt strongly about and so we stood by that decision.”

For Stills, it’s much more than making a visible gesture aimed at raising awareness of societal problems. It’s about actions.

“I think here locally we’ve done everything that we can and we’re going to continue to do that,” Stills said. “The ride-along that we did last year with law enforcement is something that we’re going to try to do again this year and something that we’re trying to expand on throughout the league, and so I just try to focus on the positive things that we’ve done here and try and spread the message to other guys and other teams. . . .

“I mean I try to do my best to just do the right thing in all situations and that’s how I handle it. I’ve gotten more involved this past year and that’s something that I just . . . I can’t hold back on because it’s something that is true to my heart and so that’s kind of how I handle every situation I come across.”

While many may disagree with some of the methods aimed at raising awareness, it’s hard to take issue with the idea of devoting time and effort to solving problems in communities and improving communication among groups that have a history of friction that has at times bubbled over into hostility and violence. For that, Stills should be praised. As to Kaepernick’s role in addressing similar issues, here’s hoping that those who take issue with what he did during the playing of the national anthem can at some point recognize other less controversial steps he has taken to address some of the very real challenges society is confronting.

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DeShone Kizer sees an accelerated learning curve

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Regarded as the quarterback with the highest ceiling in the 2017 draft, Browns rookie DeShone Kizer now embarks on an effort to get to his maximum abilities as quickly as he can. He believes that playing in Cleveland will get him there even faster.

“It is exactly what I expected when I got brought over to this club,” Kizer told reporters on Wednesday. “Coach Jackson, during the . . . pre-draft process, that is exactly how he goes about his quarterbacks and he has held up to it and he has gone even further. With that, it allows me to start my learning curve a little faster. When you have the guy who is calling the plays, the guy who has created this offense and he knows the language inside and out, teaching your everyday fundamentals, it definitely pushes you a little quicker than if it was someone else who has to then go through him. I’m at the top of the command in terms of the guys who are coaching me so it is going to allow me to get out there and compete little faster than otherwise.”

It’s no accident that Jackson is spending plenty of time with Kizer.

“I will continue to do so,” Jackson told reporters on Wednesday. “I have to find out probably more about him than I do any of the guys. He is not going to get too far away from me, I know that. He has done a good job. He just has to keep getting better. He has improved from day to day. . . . There is a lot thrown at him now, but he is doing a good job. He has been better than some guys I have been around – in two days of competing against our defense and all of the different things our defense does, which is only going to make our guys better, with all of the things we get to see every day.”

It feels like only a matter of time before Kizer ends up getting a chance to show what he can do on the field, which will be the best way for him to get to his ceiling, wherever and whatever it may be.

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