Quarterback Deshaun Watson is going through his second Cleveland Browns training camp, but this is the first time he’ll be able to suit up for Week 1.
Watson served an 11-game suspension to start the 2022 season after violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, following allegations by more than two dozen women of sexual assault and misconduct during massage sessions. The NFL and NFLPA reached an agreement that included suspension and a $5 million fine, while Watson had to enter a treatment program.
Watson was finally placed as the Browns’ starting quarterback once his suspension ended, but this year he is expected to help Cleveland turn the page toward the playoffs once again.
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But unsurprisingly after what Watson went through, this year feels very different for him.
«The whole situation changed me,» Watson said Sunday on ESPN. «In a situation where I just had to focus on myself and channel and really know who I’m surrounding myself with and who’s going to be there and support me even when I’m at my lowest point, and the last few years were definitely my lowest point in my life.
«But that’s a part of life. I just grow from it, learn from it. I keep moving forward and pushing forward and I keep showing my real character, my real personality and who I am.»
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Watson wouldn’t elaborate on how things have turned out for him, but general manager Andrew Berry praised his starting quarterback.
«I think this is going to be a great year for him, both professionally and personally,» Berry said. «We think he’s in great shape physically. He’s been really good on the field. And I love what he’s done off the field, I’m very excited for him.»
Watson also noted feeling «really good» as he continued to build a relationship with his receivers. Last season, Watson, a three-time Pro Bowler during his time with the Houston Texans, had remarkable rust, going 3-3 with 1,102 passing yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
He only had six games on the year, but it was his first time on an NFL field since his last game of the 2020 season; he too sat out all of 2021 following the allegations.
Watson understands that the spotlight will continue to shine on him because of what happened off the field, not just because the Browns signed him to a five-year, $230 million contract to put their savior in the game’s most important position.
But he did speak to his teammates in private, opening up about his personal life and more after a drive on Saturday.
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«Things that people don’t really get to know about. Especially last year, the media directed and narrated something else… [my story] it’s been overshadowed a bit,» Watson said on ESPN.
Watson will continue to work with his teammates and coaches to get on the same page in a season where he hopes to return to his elite form. When he’s healthy and at the top of his game, Watson is one of the best quarterbacks in football, using his strong arm and quick legs to lead his offense.
«Having the opportunity to start the season with a full offseason, locked in, focused, definitely feels good, and I want to continue to channel and cherish all of that energy and positive energy that has spread throughout this organization.»
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The Browns are scheduled to face the Cincinnati Bengals, who reached back-to-back AFC Championship games, in Week 1 to kick off their 2023 regular-season schedule.