When Dorian Thompson-Robinson heard he was starting Week 4 against the Ravens, he didn't have much time to process the news.
His first NFL start. In a division rival game. Only a couple of hours before kickoff.
So, he laced up his cleats and asked an assistant coach to walk out onto the field with him to ask questions and review the script plays. Then, it was time to take the field.
Thompson-Robinson struggled against the Ravens, as he threw three interceptions and was sacked four times. He completed 19 of 36 passes for 121 yards. He also rushed for 24 yards on four carries and fumbled the ball once.
As the Browns entered Week 6 following their bye week, P.J. Walker was named the starter on Oct. 13 against the 49ers. Thompson-Robinson went back to a backup role from Week 6 through Week 10. He threw one completion in Week 8 against the Seahawks for nine yards.
Yet, on Wednesday, following the news of QB Deshaun Watson's season-ending injury, HC Kevin Stefanski said Thompson-Robinson would start Week 11 at quarterback. He wanted Thompson-Robinson to have a full week of practice in preparation for Sunday's game against the Steelers. It will be the second start of Thompson-Robinson's NFL career.
"Last few weeks he's been really good in practice," OC Alex Van Pelt said. "Stand out, good on the scout team. The throws he was making, the anticipation he threw with, his footwork has increased, gotten better over the last four or five weeks. Just felt like he was ready. He's ready for a second opportunity."
Van Pelt said that Thompson-Robinson did well in digesting the offensive game plan from Tuesday night into Wednesday. He thought that Thompson-Robinson did well in the huddle in Wednesday's practice in terms of play calls. They gave him tough calls and he had memorized those calls. He believes that a week of preparation will be beneficial for Thompson-Robinson's success on Sunday.
Thompson-Robinson first found out he would start Sunday's game on Tuesday – which also happened to be his birthday.
"It's a special one," Thompson-Robinson said. "I'd say it came at the right time. Obviously, our hopes and prayers are with Deshaun (Watson), but this team needs to win, and they need to win right now. And that's what I'm trying to work to come in here and do."
Thompson-Robinson believes this week will be different than his first start. In his eyes, he expects it will be "night and day" with the reps he's taken in practice over the last five weeks, how he's approached this week in practice, as well as relying on the experience of his first NFL game.
He has a higher level of comfort being in the huddle with his teammates, talking to guys outside of the plays, asking questions and getting feedback about coverages, routes and more. Thompson-Robinson feels like they are getting on the same page.
"I've been in an NFL game, so I'm not stepping out there for the first time," Thompson-Robinson said. "I know all my keys, all what to look at throughout film, what to watch, who key players are on their defense and everything now. So, I'm not just going out there wide-eyed anymore. I'm going out there with things to look at, things to focus on and a plan to be able to tackle."
There have been a handful of rookie quarterbacks who have played throughout the league this season, and Thompson-Robinson said he's talked with a few of them in recent weeks. He chatted with Will Levis and Clayton Tune, who Thompson-Robinson said that he trained with before the draft. They bounced ideas off other another and checked in with each other as they've experienced their first NFL season.
As he's reflected on his rookie year in the NFL, it reminds him of his time at UCLA. He's drawn parallels between his collegiate experience and his first few months in the NFL.
"I kind of got a taste of my journey that I'm on right now with the Browns in college, and I wasn't expecting to go through it again," Thompson-Robinson said. "But I think everything happens for a reason. And so, the fact that I actually get this opportunity right now in this space with these circumstances, I feel like it's a major blessing and it's something that I can carry on with."
Heading into his freshman year at UCLA, Thompson-Robinson was a top recruit and highly talked about. He started right away as a freshman but struggled in his first year. He played nine games his first year, completing 112 of 194 passes for 1,311 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions.
He was drafted by the Browns in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL Draft. When he came to the Browns, though, as a rookie, he wasn't expecting to play much. As the Browns have dealt with Watson's injury, Thompson-Robinson has been thrust back into a similar situation. Yet, it's helped him navigate his first season in the NFL.
"I learned a lot from those beat up experiences and adverse situations to be able to turn UCLA into a powerhouse and a ranked team, a team that people want to watch and things like that," Thompson-Robinson said. "I think just being able to handle tough situations thrown at you. Everybody says life's not fair. Which it's not. But that doesn't mean you quit or try something else or do anything else. You stick to it. Stick to what you're doing and making sure that you're finding ways to win."