BEREA — Ken Dorsey has a clear objective in his new role as Browns offensive coordinator: Restore Deshaun Watson to the form that made him one of the league’s best quarterbacks.
“Watching Deshaun, he clearly has a great feel for a lot of different aspects of football, whether it’s scheme-wise for us, instincts of what he sees on the field in terms of the defense and adjusting things,” Dorsey said Monday at his introductory news conference. “That’s the exciting part about working with him is getting him back to the elite level of who he is.”
Watson was a Pro Bowler with the Texans in 2018, ’19 and ’20 and led the NFL in passing yards in 2020. He’s been unable to duplicate that success in two years with the Browns, being limited to 12 games and completing 59.8 percent with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s recovering from a broken bone in his right shoulder that required season-ending surgery but is expected to be ready in the spring.
“He’s one of the premier quarterbacks in this league,” said Dorsey, a former Browns backup quarterback who’s coached the position and been a coordinator. “The opportunity to really go out there this season and help him prove that he really is that — a top quarterback in this league that can operate and help us win a bunch of football games. So I’m super excited about that opportunity.”
Coach Kevin Stefanski made several changes to the coaching staff following the season in which the Browns went 11-6 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. The major move was dumping Alex Van Pelt as coordinator after four seasons.
Stefanski introduced Dorsey and said a decision hadn’t been made whether he or Dorsey will call the plays. Stefanski has held that duty throughout his four-year tenure, which has included two playoff appearances.
“Play calling, which I know everybody wants to talk about, we’ll get there,” said Stefanski, who didn’t take questions. “It’s Feb. 5. What’s most important, what I’m looking forward to the most is putting this offense back together with Ken really leading the charge, and that’s why he’s here and I’m really pleased to have him here.”
Dorsey called the plays while coordinator with the Bills.
“Play calling to me is not as important as winning football games,” he said. “To me, it’s more about, all right, what’s the decision that we feel most comfortable about moving forward to help our team win? And that’s the only thing that matters to me.”
A primary goal of the offseason is to set up Watson for as much success as possible in an attempt to better the team’s chances. An offense that further evolves to take advantage of his skill set as a thrower, runner and extender of plays is part of the plan.
Dorsey’s resume suggests he should help.
As quarterbacks coach in Carolina from 2013-17, he helped Cam Newton become NFL MVP in 2015 as the Panthers went 15-1 and reached the Super Bowl.
Dorsey spent most of the last five years with the Bills as quarterbacks coach (2019-20), passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach (2021) and coordinator (2022-23). During his first season as coordinator, the Bills finished second in the NFL in total offense (397.6 yards per game) and points per game (28.4). In 2020, Josh Allen became the first player in NFL history with at least 4,000 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns and eight rushing touchdowns in a season.
Newton (6-foot-5, 245 pounds) and Allen (6-5, 237) are bigger and run with more power than Watson (6-3, 223) but there are similarities in their styles of play.
“Every one of these guys is so unique … but some of the things that you can do stays the same,” Dorsey said. “Their ability to get outside the pocket, create, make plays, third down extend plays and put a defense in a bind.”
Despite the Bills’ success in Dorsey’s first season as a coordinator in 2022, he was fired in November as the team struggled and the offense committed turnovers.
“At the end of the day the head coach decided to make a change and that’s something that I’ve turned the page on and I’m really excited to be here and more focused on this opportunity than what happened there,” Dorsey said, referring to Sean McDermott.
Dorsey studied what he and the Bills did during his tenure this season.
“You look back and you say, ‘OK, were we on the right track? Were we doing the things that I felt like at the end of the day as a leader of the offense and the play caller was giving us the best chance to win?’” he said. “In a lot of cases there was a lot of yeses and sometimes it was in certain situations maybe I would do something a little different here.”
Dorsey played in the NFL for six seasons after going 38-2 as a starter at the University of Miami, leading the Hurricanes to the 2001 national championship. He was with the Browns from 2006-08, going 0-3 as a starter.
“It’s changed so much,” he said of the team’s headquarters. “I think the only thing that’s the same is the staircase in the front and the door I walk through. Other than that, the place is completely different in a great way.
“And just walking in here, it’s like the vibe is just so much different than when I was here as a player. And that’s the fun part about it for me. It’s just like when you walk into a building and you’re excited to come into work every day, that’s something that’s invaluable and just a very welcoming thing for me.”
— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) February 5, 2024
Dorsey said he’s talked to Watson, the conversation was “great” and he’s looking forward to getting to know him better.
“That’s the exciting thing about Deshaun is from everything I’ve been told from Kevin and the guys here, this guy, he wants to be coached, he wants to be pushed and driven,” Dorsey said. “And I think I’ll be able to pick up where the staff has left off on that.”
When it comes to quarterbacks with the ability to extend plays, Dorsey believes there’s a “give and take” in allowing for the “unbelievable” plays while limiting the negative ones.
“It’s the understanding of OK, we’ve got to make sure we’re playing smart, not conservative in terms of what we’re doing,” he said. “So it’s a balancing act there with those guys. But the understanding of knowing that these guys can do a lot of things that other people can’t.”
And trying to avoid harm while doing so. Watson was limited to six starts this year by a pair of right shoulder injuries, the first sustained on a big hit while running downfield.
“Deshaun wants to win and he’s going to do anything humanly possible to help this football team win games,” Dorsey said. “And sometimes that’s putting your body on the line to do so. Now what we got to do is make sure we’re evaluating when we’re doing those things. Those are all things that we will look at because clearly this team is at a different level when he’s on the field … and making sure we’re doing everything possible to keep him healthy.”