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Analysis: Deshaun Watson lets it fly and looks good … and other takeaways from minicamp

BEREA — Deshaun Watson rolled left and, on the move, fired 50 yards to the goal line.

While coach Kevin Stefanski was quick to say it was an incompletion — the ball glanced off the outstretched hands of receiver Elijah Moore — that’s not the point. Less than seven months removed from shoulder surgery on his throwing arm, Watson made one of the most difficult passes Thursday on the final day of mandatory minicamp … and made it look easy.

That’s critical for the Browns. It’s comforting for their fans.

Deshaun Watson increases workload, throws in 7-on-7s, ‘very, very comfortable’ with recovery

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The biggest question of the offseason was how Watson would recover from the surgery to repair a broken bone in the socket. He didn’t throw in back-to-back practices or in team drills, but when he did get the chance, he looked like himself — to steal a line from Stefanski.

Watson threw deep, he threw with velocity and he threw with touch. He appeared to do it all without discomfort.

The offseason program ended Thursday with perhaps Watson’s best day of the last four weeks of organized team activities and minicamp. Watson will continue to throw and rehab during the six weeks before training camp, and everything points to him being 100 percent and on a normal routine before the season starts in September.

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“I’ve gotten to see him throw throughout the course of this rehab, and I don’t know when it was, but awhile back he looked very normal to me, so that looked normal to me,” Stefanski said of Thursday’s practice. “Now, that’s the first time this week in seven-on-seven settings. But what we’ve been able to put him through as part of his rehab, I’ve seen him let it go, so to speak. So that was not surprising to see him do that.”

Myles Garrett moves past DPOY, only has eyes for Super Bowl

The long throw to Moore was only one example. Watson hit receiver Jaelon Darden on a deep crossing route and connected with tight end David Njoku down the sideline. All came during seven-on-sevens.

Stefanski wouldn’t go there when asked if the performance sent him into the offseason with more confidence. He’d already seen enough.

“He’s been here every day. So I’ve seen this improvement from him, both in terms of how he’s feeling and also just hitting those mile markers of when he’s allowed to do what he’s doing,” Stefanski said. “He’s right where he needs to be, and I’m pleased with how hard he’s worked.”

Watson’s progress was the most significant takeaway of minicamp, but it wasn’t the only one. Here are a few more:

WHAT NOW?

The news wasn’t all good. No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper’s holdout lasted all three days of minicamp, with fines totaling $101,716.

The summer break provides necessary time for the Browns and Cooper’s representation to negotiate, but it’s tricky to find a resolution that would satisfy both parties. So the drama could mushroom if he doesn’t get an extension and decides to skip the start of training camp.

If Cooper isn’t willing to budge despite having one year and $20 million left on his contract, the Browns have decisions to make.

They could try to appease him with a raise in 2024, but that would set a terrible precedent. Every player who believes he’s underpaid — and that’s a long list — could demand more money regardless of contract status.

The organization, which can’t trade Cooper because it doesn’t have a suitable replacement, could play hardball and wait him out. He’s unlikely to miss a game check and would return at some point, but the danger is alienating one of the team’s best and most respected players. He’d also miss valuable practice time in the reconstructed offense and would be more susceptible to injury.

The ideal scenario is compromising on a short-term extension. Two years and $44 million sounds right. It’s a slight raise while protecting the Browns from entering into a huge contract with a player who turns 30 on Monday and has been slowed by injuries at the end of the last two seasons.

That would require Cooper to put aside his ego and take more than $10 million a year less than the NFL’s highest-paid receivers.

General manager Andrew Berry may have some sleepless nights during his summer vacation.

TELL THEM ABOUT IT

Watson’s solid day didn’t include the seven-on-seven red zone drill. He and the first-team offense had five chances to score and were shut out by the No. 1 defense, which did plenty of celebrating and trash talking.

Cornerback Greg Newsome II had tight coverage on a back-shoulder throw to receiver Cedric Tillman, linebacker Tony Fields II got a hand on a pass over the middle for Njoku, cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. denied Njoku and Tillman in the back of the end zone and safety Juan Thornhill was tight on tight end Jordan Akins.

Newsome and safety Grant Delpit had an elaborate choreographed celebration that included a complicated handshake and a jump. Thornhill yelled at the offense when the backups took over.

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The defense won most of the red zone battles during the practices with the media in attendance, which is a good sign after it ranked last in the NFL inside the 20-yard line a year ago. The No. 1 overall defense allowed 30 touchdowns in 42 trips (71.4 percent). The numbers should be better than that with this secondary.

Stefanski enjoyed the defenders running their mouths.

“It’s outstanding. We love it,” he said. “One of the core things we’re built on is competing. And you can compete in a seven-on-seven. I saw the guys competing like crazy.

“And, listen, we whistle while we work. We want to have fun out here. And it just elevates the level of competition. You’re trying to make each other better.”

A LOT TO LIKE

While the defensive backs and linebackers got the best of the offense, the defensive line went through drills behind the end zone. It’s the deepest part of the defense, which was driven home during the three practices.

Whether it was a hoop drill to improve bend or a circuit through the bags to work on a variety of pass rush moves, the talent of the participants was obvious. So was the depth of the group.

Myles Garrett, who looked fine after taking himself out of practice Thursday when he felt something in his hamstring, is the clear front man and has the NFL Defensive Player of the Year trophy as proof. The defense needs him to be great to be great.

He also has plenty of help.

Za’Darius Smith, Ogbo Okoronkwo and Alex Wright join him in the rotation at end, with Isaiah McGuire and Isaiah Thomas flashing potential and fighting for a roster spot.

Tackle is even deeper.

Dalvin Tomlinson, Shelby Harris, Maurice Hurst II and Siaki Ika return. Veteran Quinton Jefferson was signed as a free agent and Mike Hall Jr. was drafted in the second round and Jowon Briggs in the seventh. Someone or someones with legitimate talent won’t make the 53-man roster.

“I think a lot of the guys really get it and understand the kind of urgency that we’re playing with and the passion we’re playing with and we’ll get along very quickly in that consistency to help build a culture, which we’ve been wanting to build for a while now,” Garrett said Wednesday. “But it also builds that hunger because it’s most of the same group of guys and we all want it even worse than last 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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