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Focused on football: Browns QB Deshaun Watson speaks for first time since suspension, ready to return to field

Deshaun Watson
Posted at 5:03 PM, Dec 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-01 19:05:54-05

BEREA, Ohio — For the first time since receiving an 11-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy following numerous allegations of sexual misconduct against him, Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson spoke to media Thursday afternoon, but with one condition— "only football questions."

Watson opened his press conference by thanking everyone who has helped keep him ready for game action in his time away, from trainers to Browns' staff, from fans to teammates. It was in his opening statement that he made it clear he'd only be answering questions about football, following advice from his legal team and clinical team.

So first off, I just want to say that I’m excited to be back. I’m excited to be back around my teammates. I also want to thank the Browns organization, the ownership, my teammates in that locker room, all the coaching staff for all the support that they had for me, especially my time away.

Also want to thank all my trainers, all my personal trainers outside when I was going away, who helped me stay in shape, grind to put in the work so I’m prepared when I come back. Thank also T3 performance trainers who was out there throwing with me with my time away. I also want to thank all the Cleveland fans in the city of Cleveland for embracing me, but also helping me adapt to the community. It’s been awesome. It’s been great being out to dinner and social places, being able to hang out with some of the fans and interact with them.

And I also just want to thank just everyone that’s been sending out some positive energy towards my way. But I understand that you guys have a lot of questions, but with my legal team and my clinical team there’s only football questions that I can really address at this time. And I also want to think most importantly, Jacoby, the big brother, he’s been to me and everyone in that locker room. The passion. The grit. The leadership he has shown these past weeks, everyone has seen it. I mean, he’s the ultimate guy that everyone wants to follow. So he’s been awesome for me. Our relationship has been great. The bond has been great and we’re gonna continue to grow from there and help win some more football games for the Cleveland Browns.

Watson was perhaps most thankful to quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who stepped up as the starting quarterback for the first 11 games of the season and had a career year through that time. His efforts were not lost on Watson, who now takes over the reins and Watson credits Brissett for helping him maintain a positive mental approach to his return.

“I think my biggest focus was the mental part of the game, staying locked in on defensive schemes, staying locked in also as much as I can with the scheme we have here, with the Cleveland Browns and with Kevin," Watson said. "So trying to watch from afar and learn and see what Jacoby is seeing on the field. I watched every game like I was preparing myself to play. I kind of knew exactly what was going on. I wasn’t in those meetings early on in the year, but once I was in those meetings I was basically preparing like I was the starter that week, asking Jacoby questions about what he sees and the different things he experienced in the games, so I think that was very, very helpful.”

The two, as well as other teammates, have been able to watch tape together for the past several weeks, which has gotten Watson acclimated to the team. Still, as offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said, Watson is bound to have some rust to shake off after not playing for nearly two years.

“I would assume there will be rust. It's common in anybody who hasn't played in a long time no matter what position. There will be some rust to knock off. It's football, which he's done his whole life so hopefully, he knocks it off quickly. I just have expectations that there will be some rust. It's fair," Van Pelt said.

Some of that rust may come at the hands of his receivers. Watson had his first practice with full first-team reps on Wednesday and while he passes were accurate, many of the receivers dropped numerous passes from Watson throughout the open portion of practice. That trend continued again on Thursday.

Van Pelt thinks that may have to do with the way Watson delivers the ball, which is different obviously than Brissett's passes.

“I think he's probably a little more of a firm ball than Jacoby. I think they both throw very catchable balls. It's just a matter of getting used to that tempo of the ball coming out of his hand," Van Pelt said.

Watson's teammates are working to get adjusted but are excited to see him in game action. That, wide receiver Amari Cooper said, is where the real challenge begins.

"Deshaun Watson, he's just a great quarterback, does a lot of things well. The accuracy we alluded to earlier, throws a great ball. Easy to catch. Obviously it's going to be exciting to play with him in an actual game," Cooper said. "But as far as practice, we've practiced with him for a while now, as far as like OTAs and stuff like that. So I guess it'll be a different feel in the game and that's what I'm excited about."

The Browns have said that in regards to the suspension and the noise around the situation, they aim to "control what we can control," but with Watson focused on the mental part of the game, Sunday's game will come with a challenge. Some of the women who have accused Watson of sexual misconduct and filed lawsuits against him plan to attend the game against the Texans.

While that may certainly impact Watson, he said he's only focused on the game, trying to tune out the outside noise and expectation of a buzzing crowd that will surely be loud with boos and chants against him.

“I’m not sure. My main focus is locked in on the game plan and trying to execute it and make sure I’m keeping the standard for the Cleveland Browns so we could try to get a win," Watson said. "I’m focusing on just being the starting quarterback and executing the game plan. That’s my main focus. I’m not worried about the atmosphere. I have to go in and execute the game plan.”

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