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Deshaun Watson looking ‘like himself,’ set to progress from every-other-day throwing schedule in minicamp

BEREA — Deshaun Watson called the play in the huddle, took the snap, went through his progressions, wound his right arm and … held onto the ball.

As part of his rehabilitation process, Watson didn’t throw Wednesday on the second day of organized team activities. He did Tuesday, and coach Kevin Stefanski liked what he saw.

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“He looked like himself to me,” Stefanski said Wednesday after practice. “I’ve been able to watch him the last couple of weeks now that we’ve gotten into Phase 2, so I’ve seen him throw. He’s making great progress and we will continue to just follow the medical team on this, but he looks like himself.”

Watson had shoulder surgery in November and began throwing in mid-March. Stefanski said when mandatory minicamp arrives June 11, Watson won’t be on the day-on, day-off plan.

“That will change as we get into minicamp, obviously as we get into training camp,” Stefanski said. “But for right now, he’ll be throwing every other day.”

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Watson, 28, dealt with a rotator cuff strain starting in Week 3 last year, then sustained a fractured glenoid bone — the socket portion of the shoulder joint — that ended his season. Watson said in April he wasn’t sure when the broken bone happened, but his last game was Nov. 12 against the Ravens. He went 14-for-14 in the second half, leading a come-from-behind win.

Watson said he was already throwing at full strength in April, and the recovery has continued. His teammates have been impressed.

“I’ve been in L.A. with him rehabbing,” new running back Nyheim Hines said. “Honestly, he’s still working through his rehab but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. I’ve caught some passes from him, they have the zip on it.”

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Hines went to North Carolina State then played for the Colts, so he faced Watson with Clemson then the Texans.

“I played against Deshaun nine or 10 years. He’s probably one of the only people I’ve seen where every time I’ve played him he’s gotten better — him and Lamar Jackson. So I’m excited to work with him finally after playing against him all these years and I’m excited to see him come back. I think he’s going to be really special this year and lead us to where we need to go.”

Watson wasn’t idle Wednesday. He repeated the routine in which he did everything but throw every time the offense went through the installation of a play. And when quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Tyler Huntley were throwing to receivers, he stood a few feet behind and simulated the action.

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“It’s something we always talk about, it’s mental reps,” Stefanski said. “When you’re not getting a rep, whether you’re the quarterback, you’re a running back, you’re trying to get a mental rep every single time. There’s a progression to how all of us learn, and as much as we can learn in the classroom and then we can learn from being out there and taking the rep, I really think you can add another element of watching it while it’s happening live.

“So our guys really do lock in and try to get that mental rep. Now you’re going to go into the meeting rooms and watch it again, so you’re going to get another rep. But I just think all of it adds up. We don’t want to be passive observers out here on the football field if we’re not in.”

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Stefanski said the process is “absolutely” more beneficial with new coordinator Ken Dorsey incorporating his system into the playbook.

“It’s important year to year. It’s certainly important this season to lock in on all those adjustments,” Stefanski said. “And some of those are nuanced, some of those are maybe terminology, but every opportunity you have to cement it in your head is really important.”

Watson was limited to six starts in each of his first two years in Cleveland — by suspension, then injury. He was still inconsistent last season but better, going 4-1 in games he started and finished. He completed 61.4 percent for 1,115 yards with seven touchdowns, four interceptions and an 84.3 passer rating.

The Browns are fully invested with three years left on his five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract and need him to stay healthy and play more like the Pro Bowler he was in Houston. His teammates are happy to see him back on the field.

“It means a lot. Having our QB1 out there with the guys, just coaching everybody up,” cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. said. “He’s healthy. Oh, man, we’re just excited to just see what he has in store for us this year.”

Winston was signed in the offseason to be the No. 2 quarterback and took the first-team reps Wednesday. Huntley was next in the rotation. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a fifth-round pick in 2023, worked on the side as he recovers from a hip injury that ended his season Dec. 24.

“We are all excited,” defensive end Za’Darius Smith said. “We get our No. 1 quarterback back, but we got Jameis. We’ve got the younger guys, too.

“But to have (Watson) back is big. I’m just seeing the confidence, the smiles on his face every time I come to work in the morning and just that leadership on the offensive side of the ball. When something’s not going right, he’ll basically stop the play and like ‘come on, let’s start over.’ So to have that leadership at our quarterback position is big for us and hopefully we can go far this year.”

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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