Kevin Stefanski says QB Deshaun Watson 'right where he needs to be' for Cleveland Browns

BEREA — Deshaun Watson's first series of offseason team activities with the Browns a year ago were a blur for all involved.

There was the obvious adjustment period for both team and quarterback, who was traded from the Houston Texans to the Browns in March of that year. There were also the more than two dozen allegations by women — some of which emerged during OTAs — of sexual assault and sexual misconduct during massage appointments while he was still with the Texans, as well as the lingering uncertainty of the suspension that was forthcoming from the NFL.

A year later, Watson has had a full season in the organization and, at least as far as the NFL is concerned, has done his time with the 11-game suspension. There remain two lawsuits in Texas in which he is embroiled, but he settled the rest last summer.

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It's against that backdrop that Watson and the Browns started OTAs last week. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski wouldn't even go so far as to call it a night-and-day difference for his quarterback this time around.

"I don't think it's fair to compare," Stefanski said after the Browns' second OTA last Wednesday. "I would just tell you he's done a really nice job throughout this entire offseason of being diligent about understanding playbook, understanding his teammates every single day. … There are always going to be things that you want to get back and do a little bit differently. That's no different than every player at every position, but he's right where he needs to be."

Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson calls a play in the huddle during training camp July 30, 2022, in Berea.

The Browns have to believe so, because so much of their season hinges on the Watson's six-game performance last season being an aberration brought about because of a 700-day hiatus between regular-season appearances. He posted career lows in completion percentage (58.2), touchdown passes (seven), yards per attempt (6.5), yards per completion (11.1) and passer rating (79.1).

What the Browns need is, if not exactly like, at least a close approximation to the Watson of 2019 and 2020. He earned Pro Bowl bids both years, including a 2020 season in which he led the league in passing yards (4,823), yards per attempt (8.9) and yards per completion (12.6).

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Jordan Akins knows that Watson well. The new Browns tight end was with the quarterback in Houston those two seasons and knows what he can do when on his game.

"Great rhythm throws," Akins said. "Deep ball throw, he's great at that. The defense, he's really good at it. He can read defense, pick apart defense. When we get the mismatches, he'll find the mismatches. Whenever he seem like he's surrounded, he's going down, somehow, he pops out. So you got to stay on your feet, stay moving downfield and be ready to make a play at all times."

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) and center Luke Wyler (56) gestures during practice May 24 in Berea.

Akins was one of several players the Browns have added to the offensive skill positions to help Watson regain that version of himself. Akins and veteran receiver Marquise Goodwin were brought in through free agency, while Elijah Moore was acquired by trade with the New York Jets and Cedric Tillman was drafted out of the University of Tennessee.

Those new acquisitions have all been working with Watson during the first week of OTAs. In fact, with Amari Cooper being held out of drills while he recovers from a February surgery on a core muscle injury and multiple other holdovers either absent or also not practicing, those newcomers have receive a large number of the reps, the biggest benefit of this portion of the offseason program.

"As you add new players, and adding Elijah to the mix, you want as a quarterback, all these reps — you take mental notes and you're thinking about how a player came out of this route, how he came out of that route," Stefanski said. "Every single rep, whether it's individual period or it's in a team period or it's in a 7-on-7, you're constantly adding that to the checklist, if you will, so that you get to understand your players, because that's important. We may run a six-step route, and the six steps that Player A takes are a little bit longer than the six steps that Player B takes."

The Browns have three more OTAs scheduled for this week, including one open to the media Wednesday. After that will be the mandatory minicamp June 6-8 before they break for a vacation before the mid-to-late July start of training camp.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) warms up during a practice May 24 in Berea.

That's essentially six more days for the newcomers to get acclimated to Watson. The time already spent together has started to provide them a foundation of what they feel like they can expect.

"I feel like it's going to have a great impact," Moore said. "For what he has done years before and for what I have seen him do in practice time and time again, and just the offseason work as far as the type of person he is, you can't do nothing but be confident in what type of person and what he's going to do out there.

Chris Easterling can be reached at Read more about the Browns at Follow him on Twitter at @ceasterlingABJ.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Kevin Stefanski says Deshaun Watson 'where he needs to be' for Browns