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Off suspension, Gainesville grad Deshaun Watson primed for debut with Cleveland
Deshaun Watson
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, a Gainesville High graduate, passes during practice June 14, 2022 in Berea, Ohio. Photo by Ron Schwane Associated Press

Gainesville High graduate Deshaun Watson won't have a playbook for everything that lies ahead.

The practices, meetings, film work, making handoffs, throwing passes for the Browns, all of that will be easy, second nature. The rest: protesters, heightened scrutiny and pointed questions, will be unscripted.

There's no blueprint for the once-revered quarterback now reviled in some circles.

Cleveland's controversial, $230 million QB was officially reinstated Monday by the NFL after serving his 11-game suspension for sexual misconduct allegations made by more than two dozen women.

Watson's return wasn't accompanied by any fanfare, simply a posting on the league's personnel notice.

He's now a starter again and poised to make his regular-season debut for the Browns on Sunday, coincidentally, in Houston, where he began his pro career and quickly rose to stardom before off-field decisions knocked him off course.

The 27-year-old quarterback isn't starting over, but anew.

He's coming back to the Browns (4-7), who are clinging to the hope that he can lead them to the playoffs despite his long layoff.

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski believes Watson, who returned to practice two weeks ago, is ready for what will be his first game in 700 days — and whatever's next.

"I have confidence in Deshaun based on his preparation and, really, the focus is on just him doing his job,” Stefanski said a day after the Browns rallied for a 23-17 overtime win against Tampa Bay. "We’re still gonna be all about the team effort, still offense, defense and special teams. So this is never, ever gonna be about one person.

“But as it relates to Deshaun, I believe in his preparation, I believe that he worked really hard on a bunch of things to be ready to go.”

In August, Watson ended months of legal entanglements by agreeing to the suspension, a $5 million fine and to undergo professional counseling and treatment after an independent arbitrator ruled he violated the league’s personal conduct policy.

Watson was accused of being sexually inappropriate with the women during massage therapy sessions. The three-time Pro Bowler has long maintained he didn't harass or assault any of the women, some of whom said he forced them to have sex.

Watson wasn’t indicted on criminal charges by two grand juries and reached financial settlements in 23 of 24 civil lawsuits.

While his return to Houston could be hostile, Stefanski said the Browns didn't consider delaying Watson's return. They didn't send three first-round draft picks to the Texans for him to watch.

Their wait is over. It's time for Watson to be a franchise quarterback.

"Deshaun is gonna come in and be Deshaun,” wide receiver Amari Cooper said Sunday. “We’ve seen that greatness on display a multitude of times. So can’t wait for him to get back, can’t wait to practice with him. Can’t wait to catch some balls from him.”


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