HOUSTON — Eternally wedged between a rock of despair and the hard place of misguided decisions, the Cleveland Browns spent the preseason committed to rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, for better or for worse, even though he was facing a protracted maturation process.
A mere five games into that binding relationship, the Browns (0-5) seemingly separated themselves from Kizer, naming backup Kevin Hogan their starter for their Sunday road game against the Houston Texans (2-3).
When Hogan takes the field at NRG Stadium, he will become the 28th signal-caller to start a game for the Browns since they were reborn in 1999.
“I think sometimes it’s good for guys to take a step back and see where they are so they have an opportunity to go back out there and do it again,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “This is by no means the end of DeShone Kizer, but I think he’s competitive like any young man would be.
“(He’d) love to be out there playing and competing, but sometimes these things happen and it’s my job as a leader to make sure I get him through whatever tough roads there are so we can come out on the other side, and I think he’ll do that.”
Kizer has struggled mightily, but that was expected. He has completed just 50.9 percent of his attempts while tossing three times as many interceptions (an NFL-high nine) as touchdowns (three).
With Kizer at the controls, the Browns were 26th in net yards per pass attempt (5.5), 27th in yards per play (4.9), and dead last in passer rating (60.2).
Only the Miami Dolphins, who signed quarterback Jay Cutler out of retirement and inserted him into the starting lineup during the preseason, have scored fewer points per game than the Browns’ 15.4.
That the Browns will pin their hopes, at least in the interim, on Hogan speaks volumes of their desperate search for something positive.
A fifth-round selection (162nd overall) in 2016 out of Stanford, Hogan completed 16 of 19 attempts for 194 yards and two touchdowns plus one interception working off the bench last week in a 17-14 loss to the New York Jets.
That marked his third appearance in reserve this season, with Hogan posting a 104.8 passer rating thus far in 2017.
Expecting Hogan to resurrect the Browns seems an exercise in folly. Their offense is largely bereft of talent, and for all the mistakes Kizer has made, he hasn’t undermined Cleveland alone.
Furthermore, pulling the plug on Kizer so early in the season might compromise his development. If the Browns have decided to punt on Kizer this early into his career, that speaks to either poor evaluation or development (Kizer was selected in the second round, 52nd overall).
Future franchise aspirations aren’t likely to be salvaged by inserting Hogan.
“Well, I see a guy that’s improved from year one to year two,” Jackson said of Hogan. “Came in the league and knew there were some things he needed to work on.
“Ended up here in Cleveland with us, played for us as a rookie in some games, did some spot things but really took the bull by the horns in the offseason, worked extremely hard and came back and he’s been our backup quarterback since we started the season and now he’s going to get an opportunity to start.”
While the Texans seemingly nailed their quarterback selection last April — rookie Deshaun Watson has passed for 1,072 yards, leads the NFL with an 8.3 percent touchdown rate and owns a sparkling 100.7 passer rating — their injury-ravaged defense is aiming to move forward.
The Texans lost two frontline starters on their opening defensive possession Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs: linebacker Whitney Mercilus (pectoral) and end J.J. Watt (leg).
The Texans filled those roster voids by signing veteran defensive ends Kendall Langford and Lamarr Houston, who have totaled 225 games (183 starts), 509 tackles and 48 sacks.
Replacing Mercilus and Watt is no easy task. Langford and Houston represent a step forward.
“Two good veterans, really good guys, a lot of experience,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “Both have experienced adversity in their careers, which I think is a good thing.
“They’ve had to come back from injuries, they’ve had to come back and play at a high level. They worked out well. They’re obviously in shape, which is the big key in those workouts.
“Both heavy-handed players relative to the positions that they play. Smart players. Guys that I believe can help us. So I think they’re definitely two good additions to the team.”