As the Browns head into the bye week in Week 5, they are optimistic about the status of QB Deshaun Watson and his shoulder injury.
Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry met with the media on Wednesday of the bye week to discuss a number of topics and provided information on Watson. Berry said the Browns do not view Watson's shoulder injury as long-term, and there are no structural concerns with Watson's shoulder. He said they are optimistic that the shoulder will heal in the short term.
Watson sustained the shoulder injury in Week 3 against the Titans on Sept. 24 when he was hit in the red zone on a quarterback keeper in the third quarter. He was listed as a limited participant in practice throughout the following week, and officially listed as questionable heading into Week 4 against the Ravens. Watson went through a pregame warmup to test his shoulder on Oct. 1 with trainers, head coach Kevin Stefanski and Berry present. Watson was ultimately ruled out for the game, and rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson earned his first career start.
Berry said that heading into Sunday, they were optimistic that Watson would play. So was he, as he spent the week working through his rehab to be prepared for Sunday's game. Watson had made progress throughout the week, where he went from not being able to raise his arm earlier in the week to testing his shoulder on pregame on Sunday.
However, that changed once he began to go through his pregame warmup.
"When we got out to Sunday and when we took him through the pregame workout, it became obvious to all of us that he couldn't throw or drive the ball well enough to perform in the game," Berry explained on Wednesday. "It just wasn't at a level where we felt comfortable that he could ultimately perform the duties of his position. If he was a running back or a defensive tackle or something along those lines, it's something it wouldn't have necessarily affected his job requirements and he would've been okay. But this is your quarterback, and his job is to throw the ball anywhere from 30 to 35 times a game and if he can't push it, if he can't drive it, if he can't throw it down the field – which became very evident early in the workout – it became a very easy decision for us not to put him out there."
Berry also explained that during that pregame warmup, it was clear that playing catch and trying to put the necessary zip for velocity on the ball from shorter distances was difficult, and they didn't have him continue to go through an extended workout. Watson did not try to drive any throws.
"It was pretty obvious what he had done to try and get ready throughout the week," Berry said. "He really was here 24/7, doing stuff at home, and it was obvious that he couldn't throw the ball on Sunday. He couldn't throw the ball well enough to play."
So, after the determination that he was unable to play on Sunday, Berry said there was also an understanding throughout the locker room that Watson was not able to play in the game.
That's when Thompson-Robinson stepped in as the starting quarterback. And while Thompson-Robinson struggled in his first career start – as he threw 19 of 36 for 121 yards and three interceptions – the Browns are still comfortable with Thompson-Robinson as their backup quarterback. Berry said he does not envision making any changes to their quarterback room.
"There is a saying that I love, it's experience is a hard teacher because it gives the test first and the lesson afterwards," Berry said. "And I felt like certainly any rookie quarterback could probably attest during their first start that that is the case. Certainly challenging circumstances, but I know Dorian's not making any excuses for it. That is the role of the backup to be able to step in at a moment's notice. I think just realistically, when you lose a game 28-3 and you don't play well on offense, we all look at what we could have done differently to support him. But we'll continue to work, we'll grow from it, we'll learn from it, and we'll move forward with him."
Overall, the Browns are optimistic that Watson will heal and be ready to go for Week 6. Watson's style also includes running the ball and using his legs, whether in a designed play or quarterback scramble, or if he is in a pass play and sees a breakdown, decides to keep and run the ball. But those instances can expose him to potential hits during games. However, Berry said they aren't concerned about that element, especially because he is more of a pass-first quarterback.
Berry believes that they saw what Watson was fully capable against the Titans and know that Watson will continue progressing.
"Feel like he's really coming into his own, getting comfort," Berry said. "Obviously having the shoulder injury and not being able to go against Baltimore is a bummer but feel really good about his progress."