Rust issues? Deshaun Watson’s long layoff could be factor

Dec 2, 2022, 5:42 PM | Updated: Dec 3, 2022, 8:08 am

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, left, talks to teammates during an NFL football practi...

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, left, talks to teammates during an NFL football practice at the team's training facility Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Richard)

(AP Photo/David Richard)

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Aside from battling the Houston Texans and some fans who are likely to taunt him, Deshaun Watson may have another not-so-visible opponent in his first NFL regular-season game in nearly two years.

Rust. 700 days worth of it.

Watson will make his long-awaited debut Sunday for the Cleveland Browns after serving an 11-game league suspension for alleged sexual misconduct, and it’s not clear how he’ll play after the long layoff.

His last regular-season game was Jan. 3, 2021, before his relationship with the team that drafted him crumbled, before he demanded the Texans trade him and before two dozen women accused him of lewd behavior during massages. He has denied the accusations, and settled lawsuits.

Watson’s return could be spectacular, shaky or something in between.

“Going back to playing quarterback after two years is tough,” Browns cornerback Greg Newsome II said. “Obviously he’s been working out and things like that, but it’s so much different getting out there and actually getting those live reps.

“But I applaud him, I salute him and we’re going to be right behind him the whole, entire way.”

The last time he played, Watson passed for 365 yards, three touchdowns and posted a 115.9 passer rating for Houston in a 41-38 loss to Tennessee. That game must seem like a lifetime ago for the 27-year-old, who admitted he’s not even sure what to expect.

“We will have to see Sunday, honestly,” Watson said this week in his first comments since August. “It might take time or it might not take time.”

Watson likened his return to “riding a bike.” But he might need training wheels back on for a bit.

His readiness is a legitimate concern, heightened by his rough outing in Cleveland’s exhibition opener in August. But Browns defensive end Jadeveon Clowney watched his teammate ramp up his activity over the past few weeks, and is confident Watson will look like himself.

“He still can sling it,” said Clowney, who played with Watson for two seasons in Houston and re-signed with the Browns to be with him again. “I know he’s a little nervous. It’s been two years, a big let off from two years.

“But I feel like he’ll go out there and do his thing.”

When last on the field, Watson was among the game’s top quarterbacks, leading the league with 4,823 yards passing in 2020, finishing with 33 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions.

His mobility outside the pocket makes him equally dangerous, and Watson’s running ability will allow Browns coach Kevin Stefanski to delve deeper into his playbook — run-pass options come to mind.

That may not happen right away, and Stefanski said there’s only one way for Watson to combat any potential rust: “You’ve just got to trust in your preparation, trust in what you do in the meeting room, individual period, all the practice reps you get.”

Watson worked with a private QB coach during the early stages of his suspension, when he was banned from the team facility, and has practiced with the Browns for the past two weeks. This week, he took over from Jacoby Brissett and was back with the starters.

“He’s getting a lot of the reps and trying to get extra reps with some of the guys that just build that trust and build that feeling where he knows how guys coming in and out of breaks and where they’re gonna be in the route,” quarterbacks coach Drew Petzing said. “Certainly trying to push that over these last couple weeks has been big.”

There’s also the contact factor. Watson hasn’t been hit, but Stefanski downplayed the notion his quarterback might not be ready for it.

“He’s played a lot of football in his life,” Stefanski said. “It’s part of the game. … He’s got his job to do.”

The Browns (4-7) may need to run the table to make the playoffs. And they’ll have the man in whom they invested $230 million at the helm of that push.

Judging by the vibe in Cleveland’s locker room Friday, the Browns are braced for a show.

“Last time I saw him, he was electric,” star defensive end Myles Garrett said. “We’ve all been a part of it or seen it in some way, shape or form. He’s very talented and there’s a little bit of an excitement building.

“I’m sure there will be a little bit of taking it slow, trying to get those short throws, easy throws in and getting his confidence up — or those runs. And then once he feels warm, and feels like he can make those bigger throws, his confidence will come back pretty quickly and he’s going to start airing it out.”


AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]

1 year ago

Joe Jarzynka...

Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]

1 year ago

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...

Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]

1 year ago

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...

Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]

1 year ago

FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...

Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]

1 year ago

FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...

Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]

1 year ago

Rust issues? Deshaun Watson’s long layoff could be factor