Waiting game: Watson, Browns open camp as NFL ruling looms
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Deshaun Watson’s first practice of training camp with the Browns was unusual: indoors, helmetless and brief. He did take snaps with the starters.
It’s unclear if it will stay that way.
Cleveland’s controversial quarterback practiced Wednesday as the Browns began preparing for the upcoming season still not knowing if Watson will be suspended by the NFL for violating its personal conduct policy.
Watson has been accused by two dozen massage therapists in Texas of sexual misconduct, and the three-time Pro Bowler faces possible punishment from league disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, who has been weighing his case for weeks.
There had been an expectation that Robinson, a retired judge who was jointly appointed by the league and NFL Players Association to handle player penalties, would render her decision before camp, but that didn’t happen.
The 26-year-old Watson did not speak to the media on Day 1, when the Browns were forced to practice inside their field house because of rain.
Amid the uncertainty surrounding Watson’s future, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said the team has a plan in place for its quarterbacks and is ready to adapt depending on the length of any ban.
Stefanski reiterated that veteran backup Jacoby Brissett will be Cleveland’s starting QB if Watson is suspended. For now, all four quarterbacks — Watson, Brissett, Josh Rosen and Josh Dobbs — will get work.
“Guys will rotate in there like we always do,” he said. “If you saw in spring, we rotated Deshaun and Jacoby as well, so that really doesn’t change. The truth is we have to get all of those guys ready to play.”
Stefanski conceded a suspension will force the Browns to adapt.
“We have a plan and we’ll see what information becomes available, but certainly more information may adjust what we’re doing,” he said.
While Browns fans may be anxious for a decision and frustrated it’s taking so long, Stefanski said dealing with unpredictability is part of the job.
“We just deal with it. That’s kind of our mentality,” he said. “We’re going to deal with July 27th and then we’ll get to tomorrow and we’ll deal with tomorrow. That’s kind of how we operate.”
As Robinson’s decision looms, the Browns, who are coming off a disappointing 8-9 season, are preparing for a 17-game stretch that will be altered dramatically if Watson can’t play.
All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett said expectations — for himself and the Browns — will stay intact whether Watson is eligible or not.
“It doesn’t change regardless how that situation works itself out, and we’re going to hold ourselves to a higher standard no matter what happens,” said Garrett, who set a team record with 16 sacks last season. “Our defense is going to do what we do. Last time I heard, they can’t win if they don’t score points.”
Even if he’s suspended, Watson will be allowed to practice with the Browns, and Garrett said his presence should allow the team to build better chemistry than it had a year ago when close losses and receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s messy release played a part in the team not being united.
“We move as if he will be or won’t be (on the field),” Garrett said ahead of practice. “You don’t really keep it in your mind like that. I mean he’s on the field with us right now. He will be on the field with us this season training and working out.
“He’s going to be in the weight room and he’s going to be interacting with us. He’s going to be with us for all intents and purposes.”
The Browns have dealt with uncertainty surrounding Watson almost since trading for him and signing him to a $230 million contract in March.
Second-year cornerback Greg Newsome II said Watson hasn’t let his situation become a distraction or affect his new teammates.
“I feel like when we get in the building, he doesn’t carry himself like that anyway,” Newsome said. “When he gets in this building, he’s worried about football and football only, so we’re going to worry about football and football only.
“We’ll let legal stuff pan out the way it’s supposed to pan out. We’ve kind of just got to focus on us getting ready for the season. Obviously, we hope D-Wat’s there Week 1, but if he’s not, we’ve got guys that are going to be able to step in and play right away.”
NOTES: Stefanski remains confident that starting RT Jack Conklin, still recovering from knee surgery in December, will be activated during camp. “He’s doing a really nice job. I want to highlight Jack,” Stefanski said. “He lived here all spring, all summer. He may have had a cot set up somewhere in the building and has been working so hard. I notice it. His teammates notice it. He’s progressing.” … Stefanski also believes Pro Bowl CB Denzel Ward (foot) will be back sooner rather than later.
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