Deshaun Watson doesn't want to go back to the type of player he was in 2020 when he was with the Houston Texans.
He wants to be better.
"I'm not the same guy," Watson said on Wednesday. "I feel like I've evolved to a new level, and I'm ready to be able to show that. Last year was a tricky time, where I was learning everything, but I don't want to just get caught up on, hey, Houston this, Houston that. I had a lot of fun, a lot of success in Houston, but I want to have that success and start something new in Cleveland."
He also believes that he can play at a higher level than he was back in 2019 and 2020. And as the Cleveland Browns kick off Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, that's where it can be showcased. Watson also has a chance to demonstrate as the helm of the Browns' offense on the field, as well as one of five captains.
Watson feels that he has progressed in the last month and a half, leading up to the first week of the regular season. From his role at quarterback, to his leadership, the knowledge of the Browns' offense, how to attack different schemes and understanding what both Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt are thinking. The combination of time and reps has allowed Watson to build a level of comfort and confidence heading into the 2023 season.
Watson faced the Bengals last season as a part of the Browns, when Cleveland lost to Cincinnati 23-10 on Dec. 11. In that matchup, Watson threw for 276 yards on 42 pass attempts, with one touchdown and one interception.
Now the Browns prepare to open their season against the Bengals, but Stefanski doesn't believe that Watson's approach to the first regular season game of the season has shifted.
"I hope every player and every coach is trying to be a better version of their past," Stefanski said. "And that's certainly for Deshaun. That's for everybody. That's for myself. We can't ever rest on our laurels or try to be something from the past. It's 2023, so that's certainly a focus for him and for all of us. And that's just a message for this team. You have to constantly get better every single day."
Stefanski said they have conversations with quarterbacks about not doing too much in a certain play or knowing when to ditch the ball and take care of themselves.
He knows what Watson is capable of on the field. Through their conversations that date back to April, Stefanski sees a "locked-in football player, eager to get out there on the field and get to work."
"I think each and every game is opportunity for myself to go out there and show who I am," Watson said. "And I have a lot to prove. And I want to go out there and prove it, not just for people in general, but just for myself because that's the type of competitor I am, and I just want to go out there and be the best I can and help this team win."
His teammates have come to expect that. Having Watson as their starting quarterback from the beginning of the season is an important element for the cohesiveness of the team.
"Just his personality, his leadership has been on full display this whole offseason, all training camp," LB Anthony Walker said. "A lot of guys in the offense are just comfortable with him and he's running the show. So just to have that guy, the franchise quarterback, leading the show right from the beginning is huge for us."
Walker faced Watson twice a year while he was with the Indianapolis Colts. He saw just what Watson was capable of on the field as an opponent, as Walker described that Watson "almost beat us twice by himself."
Walker saw flashbacks of that version of Watson this summer. Now, hearing that Watson is striving to evolve and be a better player than he was in 2020, Walker said is "scary."
"I told him he looks like his old self, the guy that I had to play twice a year in Indy (Indianapolis)," Walker said. "Back to just controlling the whole game and not afraid to make a play, I think that's huge for us. That's huge for our offense."
That confidence in Watson permeates throughout the locker room. RB Nick Chubb was the latest to express his confidence in Watson at the helm of the offense.
"Just knowing who Deshaun is and knowing who he's always been back when he was in high school in Gainesville, GA," Chubb said. "I mean, he's always been a great player, and that hasn't changed since going through college or playing in the NFL. So, we're all confident in Deshaun and what he can do."
That certainty from his teammates does hold a level of significance to Watson. He believes it's a sign of his character.
"That's who I am," Watson said. "And then all the things that they want to see is going to eventually show the more time they're around me, like they've been the past year and a half, and the more we get on the field and work out and train in the offseason, during the season, during training camp, all that stuff just kind of naturally comes out."