BEREA — Alex Van Pelt admits it takes a lot to make the hairs on his arms stand up. It requires a throw the Browns offensive coordinator knows only a select few quarterbacks can make.
Late in Wednesday's voluntary offseason team activity session, one of those throws happened. During a red-zone period, quarterback Deshaun Watson found receiver Elijah Moore on a seam route in the end zone, firing a laser to one of his newest targets for a completion.
“It's been a long time, I will say that," Van Pelt said afterward. "And I've been around some good ones, but that was one I literally got goosebumps. I was like, ‘Wow, that was a tremendous throw and catch.'"
Specific throws like that one may be difficult to quickly come to mind for Van Pelt this offseason. However, throws like that one are why this offseason has been so much different in terms of the quarterback and his comfort level.
Deshaun Watson on DeAndre Hopkins: Deshaun Watson 'would love to have' former Texans teammate DeAndre Hopkins with Browns
To hit that throw, it requires a confidence from the quarterback in multiple things. Watson has to trust his reads, his arm and, finally, his receiver to be there and be able to make the catch.
"It's just his confidence in the system itself, understanding of what we're asking of him and how to communicate at the line of scrimmage, everything from protections to calling plays in the huddle," Van Pelt said. "He's improved tenfold since this time last year. … So, I mean, you see it all start to come together playing with a little swagger out there and having some fun."
Watson acknowledged that swagger returning a day earlier while at the Browns Foundation charity golf outing. A year ago, both off- and on-the-field factors led to a six-game performance in his Cleveland debut that could best be characterized as "rusty" or "shaky."
Throws like Wednesday's to Moore remind people why the Browns were so willing to give up so much in contract terms, draft-pick compensation and public relations to acquire Watson in a trade from the Houston Texans in March 2022. They show the talent that helped the quarterback earn Pro Bowl berths in 2019 and 2020, while leading the league in passing the latter season.
"I'm very excited to be able to have the opportunities to go out there and prove what I have before and even better," Watson said. "And that's the goal, is to be better than when people last saw me. … I got to go out there and prove it, and that's what I'm looking forward to. So those opportunities for me this upcoming season, I have to take advantage of it."
Most of Watson's offseason work has been conducted in private, either off to himself or in sessions with teammates that have been closed to prying eyes. Wednesday was just the second day he's worked in front of non-team observers since the season finale in Pittsburgh on Jan. 8.
The first time in public, a week earlier, showed a Watson who was inconsistent in his performance. He was often erratic and off-target.
A week later, Watson's performance was the exact opposite. He was crisp for the most part, distributing the ball around not only to different receivers but also to different depths.
One of the biggest beneficiaries was Marquise Goodwin, the 32-year-old speedster who was signed to add vertical depth to the passing game. Those deep shots, at least two of which Watson hit to Goodwin on Wednesday, are part of what Van Pelt said can be a more "explosive" pass game this season.
Goodwin said it's Watson who will make that explosiveness work for the offense because he'll make it work for the receiver.
"It's really humbling to work with somebody as elite as Deshaun," Goodwin said. "I don't really have to guess or wonder if he, is he going to throw it far enough? Is he going to throw it? I look in the air and I'm like, 'Dang, I have to run.' So when you have somebody who is dedicated and is focused and experienced as he is elite, it just makes my job easier. All I have to do is run."
Chris Easterling can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/browns. Follow him on Twitter at @ceasterlingABJ.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Deshaun Watson shows more swagger, improvement in Alex Van Pelt's eyes