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Deshaun Watson to start Sunday vs. Cardinals, ‘comfortable, looks good’

BEREA — The Browns trust this time will be different.

That quarterback Deshaun Watson will make it through the game. That he’ll be able to survive hits and falls. That he won’t have to return to the bench after less than a quarter.

Watson will start Sunday vs. the Arizona Cardinals (1-7) at Cleveland Browns Stadium, coach Kevin Stefanski announced Friday. He’s missed three games and most of a fourth with a strain in the right rotator cuff.

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“Strong practice Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I think that’s where he feels confidence,” Stefanski said. “I have a ton of confidence in him. His teammates have a ton of confidence in him, but I think the important part was having a really good Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

“I think he’s comfortable and he looks good.”

Watson was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday and a full participant Friday, when he took all the first-team repetitions. He made all the red zone throws during the 20 minutes open to reporters.

Watson, 28, has been dealing with the injury since Sept. 24, when he took a direct hit to the back of the throwing shoulder vs. the Titans. He tried to return Oct. 22 against the Colts, went 1-for-5 with an interception and left after 12 snaps when he was hit and fell on his back.

He had told the coaches and medical staff he was ready to face the Colt but acknowledged Thursday he “tried to jump the gun” and planned to listen to the experts.

“We’ll be on the same page and we’ll all feel right when that time comes,” he said.

That time is now.

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Watson, who rested and rehabbed last week as he dealt with residual swelling, didn’t talk to reporters Friday. Stefanski was asked if the medical staff told him Watson is better prepared to take a hit than he was against the Colts.

“I can’t characterize it other than to say constant communication with medical, with Deshaun on all of this,” Stefanski said. “And I think everybody’s comfortable and certainly Deshaun’s comfortable.”

P.J. Walker filled in the last three games, and the Browns (4-3) went 2-1.

This was the first week since the injury Watson threw in practice three straight days. The strain affected his power and control, but despite a couple of wobblers and balls in the dirt Friday, his passes had better velocity.

“I felt like he looked good,” receiver Elijah Moore said. “Of course, he had a couple throws that (were) iffy in the beginning, but he’s been working. You can’t be mad at that.”

“He looked pretty good,” tight end David Njoku told The Chronicle-Telegram. “He looked very confident in his throwing ability and that’s half the battle.”

Stefanski said Watson can make any throw necessary and won’t have to wear protection or a harness on the shoulder. The hit against the Colts came when Watson scrambled left and tried to throw downfield. He often extends plays by escaping trouble and is a running threat.

“Deshaun’s been playing this game for a long time,” Stefanski said. “He understands how to protect himself. As you can imagine, our offense, our offensive line, you want to protect your quarterback, but you also understand the game.

“So he knows how to protect himself. He knows when to get out of bounds, when to slide, those type of things. But he’s a very competitive player and he makes plays with his feet, so it’s all part of the game.”

For the season, Watson has completed 61.7 percent for 683 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions, 12 sacks and an 80.9 passer rating. His last full game, a 27-3 win over the Titans on Sept. 24, was his best in 10 starts with the Browns. He completed 27 of 33 passes for 289 yards with two touchdowns.

The Browns expect a jolt from getting back their No. 1 quarterback.

“It feels amazing,” Njoku said. “Obviously I have to give a lot of respect to P.J. for stepping in. Through all the uncertainty he did a great job. But it feels awesome to have Deshaun finally back.

“It’s a huge boost. And the goal is to definitely go on a run, try to collect as many wins as we can and keep it pushing.”

Moore saw the positive vibes spread from the practice field throughout the team facility.

“It’s good to see him in good spirits and back practicing with the team,” he said. “I feel like it’s good spirits from everybody in the building.

“I’m happy that he’s feeling good and I’m ready for him to play.”

Defensive end Myles Garrett said Watson’s return provides inspiration.

“It motivates us,” Garrett said. “He’s been a big motivator in the locker room and on the field, even though he hasn’t been playing. But seeing him on the field doing his thing, balling out, having fun, supporting the guys just takes it to another level.”

The last six weeks have been filled with uncertainty at the game’s most important position, which was difficult for the organization. The team persevered, won two games and remains squarely in the playoff picture despite missing its highest-paid player.

“I don’t think we ever doubted that we had that kind of talent or that ability in the building,” Garrett said. “Had a phenomenal start on defense, which we can continue to maintain, but also playmakers on offense. And even though we’ve lost a couple, we have guys who’ve stepped up and filled big roles and will continue to play well with their newfound roles.”

Moore said the Browns proved something.

“It’s all about adapting. I feel like that’s all we’ve been doing,” he said. “The best teams know how to adapt. You can’t miss a beat. Whenever someone goes down, you can’t worry about what’s going to happen next. You got to just keep playing.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.


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