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Browns QB Cody Kessler preparing as if he's the starter, not worrying about competition coming in the draft

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    Browns quarterback Cody Kessler (6) looks to pass during an NFL game against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 25 in Miami Gardens, Fla.



BEREA -- Cody Kessler doesn’t have the Northeast Ohio background of Mitchell Trubisky. He doesn’t have the national championship pedigree of Deshaun Watson. He doesn’t have the rocket arm of Patrick Mahomes, or the prototypical size of DeShone Kizer.

But Kessler does have a Browns jersey and playbook and eight starts in the NFL.

Much of the discussion over the last three months has been devoted to which quarterback the Browns should draft with the No. 1 or No. 12 pick to solve their decades-long problem at the premium position. Meanwhile, Kessler spent the offseason working with throwing guru Tom House in California to improve his downfield passing, meeting with Browns receivers to develop chemistry and preparing to be the starter.

“Last year, I obviously was the third-string guy and I treated every week as the starter,” Kessler said Tuesday after the second day of the offseason program. “That’s the same mindset I took this offseason, whether that’s reality Week 1 or not. You have to prepare offseason and in season, week in and week out, as if you’re the starter. If you don’t, then you won’t be ready.”

The Browns seem like a lock to take a quarterback in next week’s draft. That could be Trubisky of Mentor High School and the University of North Carolina with the first pick. It could be Texas Tech’s Mahomes at No. 12, California’s Davis Webb to start the second round or Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs in the third round.

The Browns’ decision-makers have repeatedly said they’re looking for the long-term quarterback answer without ruling out Kessler as a possibility. This year’s draft class is filled with prospects who will likely require time to sit and learn a professional offense, so Kessler could have this season to prove his worth.

“You just have to compete and if you get an opportunity you have to make the most of it,” he said. “That’s something I’m a firm believer in. You can’t be looking over your shoulder thinking different thoughts. You’ve just got to focus on the moment and continue to compete.”

Kessler didn’t win a game in eight starts as a rookie last year after veterans Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown were injured, was benched against the Ravens on national TV and missed time with two concussions. But the numbers weren’t all bad, and many of the analytics that prompted the Browns to reach for him in the third round transferred to the NFL.

He completed 65.6 percent with six touchdowns, two interceptions and a 92.3 rating, and then there were the advanced stats. ranked him first in adjusted completion percentage under pressure (80.6), fifth in overall adjusted completion percentage (78.2), sixth in passer rating under pressure (82.4) and eighth in quarterback rating (93.41).

All the numbers in the world couldn’t hide his deficiencies, and he set out to improve them in the offseason. He focused on deep throws and getting rid of the ball quicker.

“I definitely spent countless hours in the weight room and out on the field and really, really emphasized pushing the ball downfield and different things with my mechanics, stepping into the throw and getting my back foot under me so you can push the ball down the field more and getting everything you have into the throw, instead of falling off,” Kessler said.

He was slow to make decisions and reluctant to take chances, which contributed to 21 sacks. He blamed holding the ball on the hesitancy of being a rookie and removed responsibility from the offensive line that was upgraded in free agency with the additions of guard Kevin Zeitler and center J.C. Tretter.

“That was on me. I’ve got to get rid of the ball faster,” Kessler said. “I just watched myself and worked on that this offseason and just trusting the guys, getting the ball out on time, helping the offensive line out, eliminating some of those sack opportunities.”

Kessler has taken on more of a leadership role with Griffin and McCown gone. He has the most tenure in the quarterback room, as Kevin Hogan was signed to the practice squad in September and activated in October and Brock Osweiler was acquired in March in a trade with Houston.

Kessler made it a point in the offseason to work out with young receivers Corey Coleman, Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton, leaving California for time in Dallas.

“We got in a lot of great work and extra work, too,” Coleman said. “It was great for him to come down there. He could be on vacation. It shows how much he really cares.”

Coach Hue Jackson told Kessler he expects a huge leap in Year 2.

“That was his biggest emphasis to me, you need to take that jump and do everything I can to make myself a better quarterback, better leader and a better guy in the locker room, everything you can do to be a better player,” Kessler said.

So he harshly critiqued his film, then watched games of great quarterbacks, including Tom Brady and Drew Brees. He believes he has what it takes to be a long-term starter.

“Absolutely. That’s my goal,” Kessler said. “I want to be successful in this league. I want to play for a long time, and that’s the mindset you have to take each day, and that’s what drives you and motivates you.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.

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