BEREA, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – For players, the football field is their sanctuary.
For Deshaun Watson, it’s an escape from the legal firestorm he finds himself amid 22 civil lawsuits and an NFL investigation stemming from allegations of sexual misconduct during therapeutic massages while with the Houston Texans.
A day after HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumble aired detailed accounts from two of the accusers, we got to see Watson the quarterback, and it was a lot of fun to watch.
“I thought he was really sharp [Tuesday] as well,” head coach Kevin Stefanski, who read about but did not watch Soledad O’Brien’s report, said after their second OTA practice of the spring.
While the accusations hover over Watson, along with potential discipline from the league, the electrifying talent he brings to the Browns that netted him that record $230 million contract was on full display.
It’s late-May. They’re in shirts and shorts.
We’re trying to keep a little perspective here, but no disrespect to any of the dozens of starters that came before him, Watson’s talent transcends anything we’ve seen in Cleveland in decades.
“He’s definitely a special player,” running back Nick Chubb said Wednesday.
If Watson, who sat out the 2021 season, had any rust, he appears to be shaking it off quickly.
“I think he’s doing that,” Stefanski said. “I think anytime you’re practicing you’re doing that, but certainly game speed and those type of things, that’s something that will come in preseason games. But I definitely think it’s for all of these guys, they’re shaking off an element of rust just from that break.”
There wasn’t a single wobble on any deep balls from Watson Wednesday.
Tight spirals rolled off his fingers with ease. His feet moved him around effortlessly and quickly. His throws were on time and on target with precision.
Tuning out the noise doesn’t appear to be a problem.
“His job in here is to play football, and when he comes in here his job is football, not to tell us about his personal matters,” cornerback Greg Newsome II said. “He leaves those outside and he handles those with his family and then when he comes in this building, we’re all about the work.”
It’s easy to see why Watson was so beloved within the Texans locker room and why he’s already a hit within Cleveland’s – and it goes beyond him picking up the tab for a Bahamas vacation for the offense.
Watson hugged his center Nick Harris as the two lined up for a drill, dapped up teammates and even Jimmy Haslam, managing and principal partner of the Haslam Sports Group, which owns and operates the Browns.
“He's come in and he's just been a professional,” Harris said. “He's gone about his business; he's bringing everybody together. He's a true professional.”
Watson also briefly interrupted linebacker Anthony Walker’s post practice media availability to give him a gift – a Rolex watch, presumably as a thank you to Walker for giving Watson his No. 4 and switching to 5 after the trade with the Texans.
“He’s a great guy to be around. We all love him,” Chubb said. “He’s a natural leader. He’s been here since OTAs started. He took his own trip. I think those things bring in trust and bonding for our team.”
Between the lines and on the field, no one has a bad word to say about Watson as a player, teammate, or person, but the allegations against him aren’t going away anytime soon.
“We did a lot of work on that as we’ve talked about,” Stefanski said. “We did a lot of work on Deshaun the person and there’s legal proceedings ongoing, there’s an investigation ongoing so I won’t comment much further than that. But we understand with respect to [what] we’re going to be dealing with as these proceedings go on.”