By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — Dorian Thompson-Robinson has long looked up to Aaron Rodgers as a role model and mentor, the template for quarterbacks.
The gold standard.
On Thursday night, Cleveland’s rookie QB showed Rodgers how he’s measuring up.
Coming off the bench in the second half to make his NFL debut, Thompson-Robinson rallied the Browns to a 21-16 win over the New York Jets in the Hall of Fame game as Rodgers watched from the sideline.
The fifth-round pick from UCLA threw a touchdown pass, threw a key block to spring a TD run and played with poise in his first pro outing. Afterward, Rodgers, who sent the 23-year-old Thompson-Robinson a signed jersey during the offseason, greeted him with a hug and some positive words.
“Pretty special for me,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I’ve been watching him my whole life, but just overall his message is just keep going, keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down and keep working hard too.”
Making plays with his arms and legs, Thompson-Robinson sparked Cleveland’s offense after replacing Kellen Mond, who played the entire first half. The Browns rested No. 1 QB Deshaun Watson and backup Joshua Dobbs in their exhibition opener.
Thompson-Robinson finished 8 of 11 for 82 yards and added 37 yards rushing on five carries. His 22-yard TD pass to Austin Watkins Jr. with 9:33 left put the Browns ahead after they had trailed 13-0 in the opening half.
And while those stats were impressive, it was the block he threw to help former Bruins teammate Demetric Felton on a 16-yard scoring run in the third quarter that brought the biggest smile from Thompson-Robinson.
“AVP and Stefanski probably wouldn’t approve of that, but that’s been in my arsenal for a while so I figured I’d use it,” said Thompson-Robinson, referring to coordinator Alex Van Pelt and coach Kevin Stefanski. “That’s all instincts.”
It’s just one game, but it was an important first one for Thompson-Robinson. He hopes to work his way up the depth chart and one day start in the NFL. And while that may not be in Cleveland, history has proven there are no certainties, especially when it comes to quarterback play and the Browns.
Stefanski liked the way Thompson-Robinson operated the offense, calling the plays correctly and getting his teammates into the right formations. That may seemed simplified, but Stefanski said it’s not a given.
“He did a nice job,” Stefanski said on a Zoom call Friday. “There’s plenty of stuff to clean up, as you can imagine, and that’s definitely what we’re prepared to talk to him about tomorrow, along with a bunch of guys — ‘OK, here’s what was really good and here are the things that we got to clean up.’”
Dorian-Thompson’s cool composure can be partly attributed to his experienced background. He made 48 starts in college, and he’s been groomed for the position since a young age.
It also helps that he’s formed a connection with Rodgers, a four-time MVP and future Hall of Famer, who has kept in touch with the young quarterback. They met at charity event and Dorian-Thompson said he was able to “pick his brain a little.”
He then chuckled when asked if he’s patterned his playing style after Rodgers.
“It’s kind of hard to model your game after Aaron just because of all the special things he can do with the football,” he said. “But definitely just as a person and how he carries himself and how he handles the organization and everything like that is something I aspire to be one day for sure.”
NOTES: WR Daylen Baldwin (hamstring) and CB Thomas Graham Jr. both sustained “significant” injuries in Thursday’s game. Both were waived with injury designations. … Starting CB Greg Newsome II (groin) could miss more time after getting hurt in practice earlier this week. … Stefanski doesn’t find K Cade York’s missed field goal on Thursday “majorly concerning.” York struggled as a rookie last season, but the Browns didn’t bring in any competition for him in camp. … Stefanski said he was humbled to attend the tribute for legendary running back Jim Brown. While he was surprised to learn of Brown’s other athletic achievements — he threw two no-hitters at Yankee Stadium — Stefanski was most struck by “the message of human dignity, the message of respecting all people, regardless of where they’re from, what their race is, what they believe in.”
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