Deshaun Watson might've logged his three best practices in a Browns uniform this week in Berea.
Mandatory minicamp concluded Thursday with another smooth hour-long practice from Watson, whose increased comfort and confidence in the offense appeared to be the most notable takeaway from the final week the Browns will be together until training camp.
The practices have been full of players where Watson has hit receivers in stride, converted touchdowns on red zone drills and spotted the ball away from defensive backs. If the Browns had a depth chart, every receiver who'd be near the top of it had a noteworthy play with Watson, who acknowledged Wednesday how much progress he's felt in his game compared to his first practices with the team a year ago.
"I'm pretty far ahead of where I was last year," he said. "Last year was, as far as football, being on the field, just running a new system, trying to adapt to different teammates, different players, how guys run routes, how Kevin calls the plays and just being able to process the game at the speed I know. Being a year in and being able to talk to Kevin and AVP about what we want to do and being confident about it, it allows me to play a little bit faster when I'm on the field."
Check out the action from practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus as the Browns go through Veteran Minicamp
The first practice Tuesday felt nearly perfect for Watson, who rarely missed a throw and completed several strong passes to WR Amari Cooper in the only practice day Cooper had all week.
Cooper, recovering from offseason core muscle surgery, executed most of his plays in the middle of the field, a space in the defense the Browns believe will become more open for him this year due to the offseason additions of deep threats Elijah Moore and Marquise Goodwin.
In just one practice, Cooper said he could already tell how the extra speed on offense will benefit him.
"It's going to do a lot," he said. "I'm already seeing it. First of all, Deshaun loves throwing the vertical passes downfield, so I know he's going to throw them. Goodwin, he isn't just fast, but he's a football player. He knows how to track the ball. He knows how to run those deep balls. I think it's going to be phenomenal for us, for sure."
Even though the practices contained plenty of positive elements, it shouldn't be forgotten that minicamp is a passing camp. Players aren't in pads, contact isn't allowed and most drills are run at decreased intensity.
The pass-friendly setting, however, shouldn't shadow the fact that Watson looked much closer to the Pro Bowl QB he was with the Texans than the one who could play just six games with the Browns last season due to his suspension. He was especially sharp in red zone drills, where he connected with Cooper, Moore, Donovan Peoples-Jones and rookie Cedric Tillman, among other receivers, throughout the week, and looked comfortable stretching the ball in the middle and deep parts of the field when receivers were open.
"He just feels more comfortable, I think, calling plays, breaking the huddle, leading all those things where you're around the guys for a year, over a year now, he's getting more comfortable doing that kind of stuff," left guard Joel Bitonio said. "This is our fourth year with Stefanski, and there's obviously wrinkles and new things that we're putting in, but I think everybody's going to continue to get comfortable.
"But quarterback is probably the most important position in sports. He's feeling more comfortable and hopefully we can translate that on the field."
Watson has insisted that he won't know for sure if all the rust has been knocked off from going 700 days between starts until Week 1 is over.
That game, a home battle against the Bengals, is 94 days away. In 44 days, the Browns will open training camp at The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia for nine days. That's when the pads will come on and the Browns will learn even more about how much closer their QB is to rekindling the elite traits he showed in Houston.
They'll also dig deeper into the playbook, which Watson said will contain several differences from the one deployed a season ago. It will continuously change throughout the year, too, as offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and Stefanski draw more plays to keep the offense unpredictable.
"The foundation and the structure of the offense is the same," Watson said, "but as we build and continue to get ready for the season, everything else is new."
For now, it's a six-week break until the Browns return and begin a training camp that will be one week longer than normal due to their participation in the Hall of Fame Game.
It's also one extra week for Watson to continue advancing his comfort in the offense.
Based on how he looked in minicamp, he'll be more than ready to go.
"We have a lot of work to put in this next break," Watson said, "and once we come back on the 19th, we've got to be ready, locked and loaded and show what we've got."