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OTAs & Minicamp

OTA Notebook: Deshaun Watson's throwing plan, red zone defense and more

Notes and obversions from the second day of OTAs

OTAs Day 2

As the Browns closed out the second official day of organized team activities, they went through 7-on-7 drills in the red zone.

As their 2024 sixth-round pick LB Nathaniel Watson lined up in the defensive scheme, he read the play and intercepted QB Tyler Huntley's pass in the end zone. The defense erupted in cheers and ran down the field, surrounding Watson in celebration.

"Bookie he is electric," CB Martin Emerson Jr. said of Watson. "He's a very hyper guy. He comes and plays every day. He's very physical and that's what we play. Cleveland Browns defense, we (are) very physical, fast, and that's what I feel like he brings all that to the table. So, I'm excited to have Nathaniel a part of this defense."

The Browns have officially begun their OTAs, which are voluntary practices leading up to mandatory veteran minicamp. No live contact is permitted during OTAs, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills are allowed.

So, here are the main notes and observations from the second day of OTAs at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus.

Deshaun Watson's progress

QB Deshaun Watson participated and threw in the Browns first OTA on Tuesday but was not scheduled to throw on Wednesday as part of his rehab plan.

Head coach Kevin Stefanski said Watson is rotating days and throwing every other day for now. However, that plan will change as the Browns progress into minicamp in June and again during training camp.

"He looked like himself to me," Stefanski said of Watson. "I've been able to watch him the last couple of weeks now that we've gotten into Phase 2, so I've seen him throw. He's making great progress, and we will continue to just follow the medical team on this, but he looks like himself."

Instead, he went through the mental reps of the drills and simulated throwing throughout Wednesday's OTA, as well as practiced his footwork and ball handoffs. Watson also took the same mental reps in the 7-on-7 drills in practice.

Stefanksi said there is value in the mental reps for their players. Not only are they going through the rep, when they watch the film in the meeting room, they take another rep of that action or play. Stefanski said they do not have the intention of being "passive observers out here on the football field if we're not in."

"It's something we always talk about," Stefanski continued. "It's mental reps. When you're not getting a rep, whether you're the quarterback, you're a running back, you're trying to get a mental rep every single time. So, I think there's a progression to how all of us learn, and I think as much as we can learn in the classroom and then we can learn from being out there and taking the rep, I really think you can add another element of watching it while it's happening live."

Check out the action from practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus as the Browns go through organized team activities

Emphasis on red zone defense

While the Browns had one of the best defenses in the league during the 2023 season, leading the league in total defense – allowing just 270.2 yards per game – and passing defense – allowing 164.7 yards per game – Emerson said there are still areas they can improve for 2024 in the second year of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's defensive scheme.

One Emerson highlighted specifically was their red zone defense. According to Pro Football Reference, in 2023, the Browns had the worst red zone percentage in the league at 71.4 percent – the percentage of times the opposing team reached the red zone and converted for a touchdown.

"So, coming into this year, that's a big goal for us," Emerson said. If we can make guys settle for three points instead of getting seven, we save four points for the offense. And four points in this league, that's a big difference. That's my goal for this defense and one of our goals for this defense."

It was a focal point on Wednesday as the Browns practiced 7-on-7 drills in the red zone. LB Jordan Hicks broke up a pass intended for RB Jerome Ford, while rookie Nathaniel Watson picked off the pass from Huntley.

Other practice notes

  • QB Jameis Winston and Huntley switched off and took the live reps during the drills. They each threw passes to a number of receivers and pass catchers like WR Jerry Jeudy, WR David Bell, WR Jamari Thrash, WR Michael Woods II and others during different portions of practice.
  • The Browns also spent a portion of Wednesday's practice focused on punt coverage, giving P Corey Bojorquez and K Lucas Havrisik opportunities to kick with the unit facing the defense.
  • As the team spent time broken into separate position groups to run through drills, the running back room focused on their footwork and taking handoffs from quarterbacks.
  • The defensive line worked through different drills simulating being on the line of scrimmage and getting off the block. Rookies DT Mike Hall Jr. and DT Jowon Briggs worked alongside the other veteran players present like DE Za'Darius Smith, DT Maurice Hurst II, DT Chris Williams and DE Sam Kamara. Second-year players in DT Siaki Ika and DE Isaiah Thomas were also a part of the drills.

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