BEREA, Ohio--Hue Jackson gave rookie Cody Kessler a rave review earlier this week.
"No one has played a perfect game yet," Jackson said. "I haven’t seen it. This guy is playing as good as I have had in a long time. There is no question about that. There are some things he can still do better to play even better. We have to get those things corrected and move forward.”
Jackson has coached the likes of Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco in his NFL career.
On Wednesday, Jackson clarified that he was referring to Kessler's play as "a rookie quarterback".
“I want to make sure I clarify that," Jackson said. "What I meant by that is he is one of the better rookie quarterbacks that I have coached. I have had some real good rookies before – Joe Flacco, to name one, and I’m sure I have had some others – but he has done an outstanding job.
"I think he is playing as well as any rookie quarterback that I have had because I have seen him do things that we did not even ask other rookies to do in different kind of teams," he said. "He is playing good. I think he is growing every week. He has seen a lot in his young career in the National Football League. For that experience, he will be better as he continues to move forward, if he will keep working through his process and working at getting better.”
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has also been impressed with what he's seen of Kessler.
“I have been impressed," Lewis said on a conference call Wednesday. "He has really done a good job of being deliberate with the football, with handling the offense, getting them in and out of the plays they want to be in. Then when he throws it, he has been very accurate. He has moved in the pocket and delivered the football, and he has not had negative plays that way.”
In four starts, Kessler is 80-of-122 for 865 yards (65.6 pct.) with four touchdowns and one interception. His rating is 93.8, which is currently sixth best in the AFC and 14th overall in the NFL in passer rating. Kessler is also fourth in the AFC in third down passing with a 93.5 rating.
Andrew Hawkins was asked if he thought Kessler could be a quality NFL starting quarterback in the long term.
“I do," Hawkins said. "I think he does have what it takes. He is still young and he is still learning, but I think he is lightyears ahead of what you see out of normal rookies, and he just has to keep on that track.”
Joe Thomas, who's seen his share of rookie quarterbacks, gave Kessler a good endorsement.
“I will say that Cody has done about as well as any rookie that I can remember," Thomas said. "He has done a tremendous job. I think he has surprised a lot of people.”
Despite the good statistics, Kessler is only interested in only one column.
“Success in the sense that I have done some things well, but at the end of the day, I look at the win/loss record," Kessler said on Monday. "That is the most important to me. This team is what is most important to me, and that is why I’m not as excited as I would be if we won those games. That is my biggest thing.
"The stats and everything and making plays and all that are nice and helps your team win, but at the end of the day, you want to win the game," he said. "That is the whole point of it. That is the whole point of being competitive. That is what we are striving for every day and every week and every Sunday. That is something that obviously, we want to start doing. We want to start finishing games and winning games and putting together complete games. That is obviously the most important thing.”
Last week against Tennessee, Kessler had his best game with a 26-of-41 performance for 336 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and a rating of 105.3.
When asked again Wednesday about his performance last week that garnered some national attention for rookie honors, Kessler didn't budge.
“Like I told you guys on Monday, the biggest thing I focus on is the win/loss column," Kessler said. "I know it might sound like the right thing to say, but that is how I honestly feel. That is how I was in high school and college. I just get really competitive and I love winning games as does everybody. That is the biggest part when you are playing quarterback is you want to win games. You want to win games. I haven’t been able to do that yet so that is my biggest focus. All the stats and everything, if I’m playing well it will help that, but at the end of the day, that is what I look at and that’s what I judge myself off of.”
After having a lot of success on third down in his first two starts, Kessler has struggled on third down the past two weeks. The Browns were just 5-of-13 (38 percent) against New England and just 3-of-14 (21 percent) against Tennessee.
"I think the biggest Achilles heel for us (against Tennessee) was our third down conversion rate," Jackson said. "That is the first place when I look at Cody’s performance that he needs to continue to step up.
"That is not just Cody," he said. "A young quarterback from week to week, it is going to be something that just doesn’t go as right."
Kessler said his pre-snap reads are the most important in converting on third down.
“I think it is just knowing where to go with the ball," Kessler said. "We get different looks all week and do different things. Unfortunately, we would have liked to have had more third-and-short, but at the same time, it is me. I have to manage the play. If it is third-and-long and it is there, you take it. If not, don’t force the ball.
"You don’t want to turn it over, and it is OK to play the field position game and punt away," he said. "At the end of the day, you want to convert those. Obviously you want to convert every one and keep your defense off the field and give them a breather, but for me, I just have to go with the ball, go the right place with the ball and if it is not there be smart with it and check it down or throw it away and move on.”
Despite having a good day statistically last week against the Titans, Kessler physically took a beating. He was sacked six times, but knocked to the ground on 11 occasions. Still, Kessler wouldn't pass the blame to the offensive line.
"I have to get the ball out of my hands quicker," Kessler said. "Some of those, I was trying to extend the plays. That puts it on me to be able to rid of the ball quicker or dump it down."
Jackson is pleased with Kessler's progress after four games.
“He is growing," Jackson said. "He is growing week to week. One week, he is staying in the pocket to make plays. (Last week), he was making plays outside the pocket. He made some huge plays outside the pocket. He continues to impress with his courage. He stands in there. He gets walloped a few times. He gets back up. He stands up and on he goes.
"That is pro football," he said. "Nobody likes their quarterback getting hit that much. I know I don’t. It is something we have to get better at still, but to watch our quarterback play under duress and still make plays, that is part of playing in the National Football League. There are some third down things we can do better and need to do better, but I think he’s growing week by week, moment by moment, play by play so he has to continue to do that.”
Jackson said he's opening the play book even more as his trust in Kessler grows.
“I don’t know that I have ever held back for him because he is cerebral enough to handle it all, but we are doing a little bit more," Jackson said. "I think you guys have even eluded to it that we have started off throwing the ball a little bit more than we have in the past because there is a lot of trust there. I do trust him. He is making plays, and he has to continue to do so.”
Kessler feels he is getting more comfortable learning on the fly at the NFL level.
“Yeah, I feel like I’m getting better in the sense of learning how to play in the NFL and playing the position in the NFL and feeling more comfortable with the speed of the game and the tempo and different looks that you get thrown at you and different things like that," Kessler said. "That just comes with more reps. The more reps I get in game situations has made me feel more comfortable and play a little bit faster and be a little bit quicker with my decision making.”
Kessler said he takes no satisfaction in losing a close game, but is hoping this is the week the work he and his teammates have put in puts a 'W' in the win column.
"That is the NFL," Kessler said. "You are going to have close games, and it will come down to a couple plays here and there. You obviously want to be on the winning side of those, That is something for us as an offense is we want to put together a complete game, be better on third down and do these different things to give us a better chance to win. You will never see me feel defeated. I know this offense is the same way. These guys at practice come back ready to work every time...
"Obviously, we have been very close in the last couple of games, but we just have to put together a complete game and hopefully, come out on top.”
Pryor, Haden Sit Out: WR Terrelle Pryor sat out of practice with a hamstring injury on Wednesday, but he's optimistic he'll be able to play by Sunday.
"We have a great training staff," he said. "I'm putting all my faith in them and God that they'll get me up and ready to go."
Pryor said the injury is not similar to what held him out of the 2015 preseason.
"It's no where near that," he said. "Today, I woke up feeling pretty good, just taking precautions and the right steps for the team."
DB Joe Haden missed last week's game with the Titans with a groin injury and he sat out Wednesday's practice. Besides, Haden, DB Marcus Burley (hamstring), TE Seth DeValve (knee), WR Corey Coleman (hand) and OL Joe Thomas (knee/rest) did not practice. QB Robert Griffin III (shoulder) and DB Trey Caldwell (practice squad) were on the stationary bikes, but are not on the 53-man roster.
Orchard Sighting: OLB Nate Orchard (ankle) was seen walking in the locker room without a boot. He was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 1 and could return if the Browns used their one return from injured reserve on him instead of Griffin III
Telfer, Cooper Back: TE Randall Telfer (ankle) and DL Xavier Cooper (shoulder) returned to practice. Telfer missed the last two games, while Cooper missed last week's game. Telfer and Cooper were listed as limited, while QB Josh McCown (left shoulder) and DB Jamar Taylor (knee) were limited.
Poyer to IR, Reynolds Signed: DB Ed Reynolds was signed to the active roster from the practice squad. In addition, the team placed DB Jordan Poyer (abdomen) on injured reserve.
Reynolds (6-1, 207) is officially in his second NFL season out of Stanford. Originally selected by Philadelphia in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, he appeared in six games last year and totaled 21 tackles, one pass defended and one interception. He spent the first six weeks of the 2016 season on the Browns’ practice squad. His father, Ed, played 10 seasons (1983-92) in the NFL. He will wear No. 39.
Poyer started all six games this season. He is third on the club with 36 tackles, while adding three special-teams tackles and two passes defensed. He suffered a lacerated kidney at Tennessee.
Bibbs Dropped, Add Two to PS: The Browns have signed DB Darius Hillary and WR Jordan Leslie to the practice squad. To make room on the roster, the team released TE E.J. Bibbs from the practice squad.
Hillary (5-10, 183) is in his rookie season out of Wisconsin. Originally signed by Cincinnati as an undrafted free agent, he spent four weeks on the Bengals’ practice squad. He appeared in a school record 54 games at Wisconsin, starting his final 40 at cornerback. A native of Cincinnati, he graduated from Sycamore High School. His father, Ira, played with the Bengals (1987-89).
Leslie (6-1, 205) is officially in his first NFL season out of Brigham Young. Originally signed by Minnesota as an undrafted free agent in 2015, he has appeared on the practice squads in Minnesota (2015), Atlanta (2015) and Tennessee (2016). He spent one season at BYU where he recorded 55 receptions for 779 yards and six touchdowns after transferring from UTEP.
No Surgery for RG3: Multiple reports have said that QB Robert Griffin III does not need surgery on the coracoid bone in his shoulder after being examined. Griffin III is eligible to begin to practice but that is unlikely as the injury was originally termed as an 8-12 week recovery time. Griffin III could return late in the season, but it is not clear if the Browns will bring him back to the active roster or continue to allow QB Cody Kessler to play.