Aaron Rodgers, Packers have former Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer dreaming big again

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

DeShone Kizer’s first phone call, once he finished the final day of minicamp with the Green Bay Packers on Thursday, was to Brandon Wimbush.

It was more business than social, and revolved around the parallel revivals Notre Dame’s former starting quarterback, Kizer, and current one are attempting to concoct this offseason. Even some of their fixes are identical.

Both, for instance, spent time with the Tom House/Taylor Kelly biomechanics-based 3DQB coaching group in Orange County Calif., at their own expense recently. and that’s where Kizer is headed to train again, between now and when training camp cranks up in late July.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to create some consistency within the things that I’ve learned,” Kizer told the Tribune in a phone interview. “Hopefully, I come back a better quarterback.”

This time Kizer does so armed with concepts he learned from Packers head coach Mike McCarthy in OTAs and from longtime Green Bay star QB Aaron Rodgers, the latter of whom was given a pass to skip minicamp but chose to show up anyway to tutor Kizer and the man the second-year pro will vie with for the backup quarterback job in the coming months, former fifth-rounder Brett Hundley from UCLA.

The Kizer-Rodgers union appears to be the most benevolent of many such positive wrinkles from a March 14 trade with Cleveland that the 22-year-old Kizer never saw coming.

“When you go 0-16, you do expect change,” said Kizer who played in 15 of those Cleveland losses and started 14 of them. “And we got that change during the season with a new GM.”

John Dorsey on Dec. 8 replaced deposed general manager Sashi Brown, who presided over the Browns selecting Kizer in the second round (52nd pick overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft and Kizer’s eventual installation as Cleveland’s 27th starting QB since the franchise reincarnated as an expansion team in 1999.

“You go out there and you try to feel out what the next GM’s going to do,” Kizer continued. “But when you’re finishing out the season, you don’t get that understanding of what the picture may look like.

“So I’m out training in Orange County, and I’m going through my whole Browns offseason checklist and you get a random call from a Cleveland number. It turns out to be your GM (Dorsey).

“He asks you how you’re doing and asks how you’re training’s going. and by the end of the conversation he lets you know you’re going to be shipped up to Green Bay.”

Green Bay shipped its first-round pick from the 2015 draft, cornerback Damarious Randall, to get its hands on Kizer. In 2017, Randall totaled 47 tackles and four interceptions in 12 starts before a knee injury ended his season.

The Packers, around McCarthy, experienced a seismic makeover following a 7-9 season, the first since 2008 in which they were bystanders during the playoffs.

Brian Gutekunst, the man who would trade for Kizer, was elevated to the role of general manager on Jan. 7. Three days later, McCarthy had a new defensive coordinator (Mike Pettine) and an arsenal of new offensive coaches, including a new coordinator (Joe Philbin), new passing-game coordinator (Jim Hostler) and new QBs coach (Frank Cignetti Jr.).

“I really didn’t consider whether the changes would even the playing field for me in my competition for the No. 2 spot,” Kizer said. “My mindset right now is more about the development of myself rather than looking at the competition and fighting for a No. 2 spot. That’s what training camp will be for.

“During OTAs and minicamp, the only goal for myself was to simply learn the playbook and to continue to perfect the footwork that they have in the system. You’re in no position to compete until you know what the heck is going on out on the field.”

Enter the 34-year-old Rodgers, the two-time league MVP and NFL career passing ratings leader who missed more than half of his 13th pro season, in 2017, due to a broken collarbone.

“For a guy who’s been in the league as long as Aaron and has proven himself, a lot of those guys don’t typically spend much time around the (training) facility during the offseason,” Kizer said. “He was there early and stayed late every day.

“That in itself is obviously a great trait to have, but within that I’ve been there with him and learning quite a bit about the smaller things within the game that I wasn’t really able to get without a veteran quarterback in my rookie year.”

Said Rodgers to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky regarding Kizer, “He’s obviously a big body, throws the ball well. He’s just trying to get accustomed to our language and some of the fundamentals we teach here, but he’s picking it up great. He’s fun to have in the meetings.”

Kizer has long admired Rodgers but didn’t study or emulate him until recently.

“I actually stayed away from studying him in the sense that his throwing style was something I couldn’t really understand from an outsider’s point of view,” he said.

“Anytime I saw him on film, when we were playing similar opponents, I’m looking at the defense and I’m looking at the way he was attacking them, but as far as mechanically throwing the ball and his footwork, looking with an outside lens, it would do nothing but confuse me.

“But now being able to see why he throws the ball the way he does and understand the way (McCarthy’s) QB school has put him in the position to throw the ball the way he does, it obviously allows me to look up to that awesome style of throwing that he has, that has led him to MVPs and Super Bowls.”

And a style that has Kizer — who was sacked 38 times, threw 22 interceptions to 11 TDs and fashioned a 60.5 QB rating as a rookie in 2017 — dreaming big once again in 2018.

“Starting with college, my whole career as a football player has been a bunch of highs and lows,” said the only ND football player ever to give up two years of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft. “I’ve got to make sure I capitalize on a great opportunity with a winning program, a winning head coach, a great offensive staff and a great mentor (Rodgers), who has the ability to be an MVP ever year.

“He’s the best player on the field every time he steps out onto it. I’m going to do whatever I can to get myself to that level someday. I’m so thankful the trade gives me that chance.”

In this Tuesdayphoto, Green Bay Packers fullback Aaron Ripkowski (22) talks with quarterback DeShone Kizer (9) during minicamp in Green Bay, Wis. Kizer has a fresh start with the Green Bay Packers this offseason after going through a winless year with the Cleveland Browns as a rookie.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly walks off the field with DeShone Kizer (14) following Notre Dame’s 30-27 victory over Miami on Oct. 29, 2016, at Notre Dame Stadium.

“He’s the best player on the field every time he steps out onto it. I’m going to do whatever I can to get myself to that level someday. I’m so thankful the trade gives me that chance.”

Former ND QB DeShone Kizer on Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers