Browns QB Deshaun Watson back at practice from shoulder injury, starter for Cardinals game unclear
BEREA, Ohio (AP) Cleveland quarterback Deshaun Watson returned to practice Wednesday after playing only 12 snaps in the past four games with an injured right shoulder that has become a daily topic of conversation for the Browns and their fans.
It's a significant step for Watson, who didn’t practice at all last week because of the injury, which he sustained on Sept. 24 against Tennessee. It was his best game in 10 starts since being acquired by the Browns in 2022.
Before his team practiced inside, coach Kevin Stefanski said Watson would be limited as the Browns (4-3) began preparing on the field for the Arizona Cardinals (1-7), who have their own quarterback carousel.
Watson has been out with a strained rotator cuff, and the Browns are exercising caution with an injury that initially was downplayed but has developed into something that could alter their season.
Stefanski said he wanted to see how Watson looked while throwing before deciding on a starter for Sunday. If Watson doesn't play, backup P.J. Walker would make his third start, Stefanski said.
With most eyes in the building trained on him, Watson, wearing an orange No. 4 jersey, threw several passes with good velocity during the portion of practice open to media members. He fired a couple over 20 yards and looked a little better than in his last practice on Oct. 20.
Two days later, Watson started at Indianapolis but attempted just five passes before taking a hard shot to his shoulder when he got shoved down. Stefanski chose not to subject him to another hit and played Walker, who, helped by a couple of controversial calls against the Colts, led the Browns to a 39-38 win.
Walker has been shaky.
He threw five interceptions and fumbled twice in three games. With a chance to put away Seattle last week, the 28-year-old signed in August after being released by Chicago fired a third-down pass off the helmet of a defender that was picked off, setting up the Seahawks' go-ahead TD in a 24-20 victory over the Browns.
On Monday, Stefanski wouldn't commit to Walker as Cleveland's backup, leading to speculation that he might move rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson into the No. 2 spot.
However, Stefanski said that wasn't his intent.
“I wouldn’t read much into that," he said.
The Browns must feel confident that Watson is close to returning and their backups are sufficient to get them through the season. Otherwise, they would have made a move before Tuesday's trade deadline to add another QB.
“I like our roster,” Stefanski said. "I like the guys we have.”
Despite Watson's injury and Walker's issues, the Browns have stayed competitive while leaning on an improved running game and solid defense.
“It’s tough, but we got to play next-man-up mentality, man,” running back Kareem Hunt said. "So, we got to find a way to win games with whoever is at quarterback. That’s the biggest thing. And I feel like we just got to rally behind the quarterback and go out there and do our job.”
Arizona's QB situation also is in flux.
Cardinals starter Kyler Murray could return Sunday after being sidelined all season following knee surgery. Earlier this week, first-year Arizona coach Jonathan Gannon said rookie Clayton Tune would start, but nothing is concrete, as that came before the team traded backup Joshua Dobbs to Minnesota.
So, will it be Murray or Tune?
"You know I can’t answer that,” said Cardinals offensive coordinator Drew Petzing, who spent the past three seasons in Cleveland.
Stefanski joked that he hasn't gotten a notification from Petzing.
“I haven’t checked my phone,” he said. "Not yet.”
NOTES: With several players dealing with injuries, Stefanski adjusted practice. The Browns had a full-speed 7-on-7 session and then slowed things down in the team periods “to take a little bit off some of their legs.” ... Hunt, who complained about not getting the ball following the loss in Seattle, said he spoke with Stefanski to clear the air. “We talked a little bit and it’s no hard feelings,” Hunt said. "We both want to win.” ... RT Dawand Jones (shoulder), CB Greg Newsome II (groin), WR David Bell (knee) and DE Alex Wright (knee) were held out of practice.
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Updated November 1, 2023