When P.J. Walker earned his first start as an NFL quarterback with the Panthers in 2020, he didn't know he was starting until the day of the game in Detroit.
On Sunday, Walker will earn his eighth start at QB when he takes the field on Sunday with the Browns against the 49ers. HC Kevin Stefanski named Walker the backup quarterback earlier this week, saying that he felt like it was the right decision for the team. With starting QB Deshaun Watson officially listed as out for Sunday's game against the 49ers, Walker officially earned the starting job.
It's an opportunity he's not shying away from.
"I've had five weeks to just sit in a meeting room with the guys and just to see how they work, see how they operate as a group," Walker said. "And so, for me, just filling in this week and just knowing the situation, knowing I might be up. So just preparing. (Alex Van Pelt and Stefanski) just getting me prepared, having those deep conversations with me of what I like on offense and what I think about certain plays, that right there helps me a lot."
Walker previously spent time as the backup quarterback for the Panthers and was a part of their roster from 2020-22. He's played in 15 games over his three seasons in the NFL and played in six games during the 2022 season where he threw 63-of-106 for 731 yards and three touchdowns. Walker also started at quarterback after Baker Mayfield was injured in Week 5 in 2022.
Check out photos of the team working to prepare for the San Francisco 49ers
Those starts during the 2022 season with the Panthers have helped prepare him for this moment. Walker has been with the Browns for a month after they signed him to the practice squad on Sept. 4, growing accustomed to the scheme and understanding what they do as an offense.
"For me, it was to come here and help the room as best as I can, try to bring some experience," Walker said. "So, for me, just try to do as best as I can to develop and learn. Learn the offense and get plugged in when I needed to, just try to figure things out from there. I wasn't expecting this situation to happen right now, but it's happening."
Walker also played one season in the XFL in 2020 with the Houston Roughnecks before the season was canceled. That experience helped him get live reps in a game and see different defenses to stay prepared for any opportunity in the NFL.
"I was able to find a love for football again, back and during that time, just going through a tough time in 2019 of not being able to go out there to perform and play, have an opportunity in 2020," Walker said. "The XFL definitely prepared me for these situations now, especially like the last couple of years that I've been in league."
As Walker spent the week taking reps with the first team, OC Alex Van Pelt said that Walker throws the ball well. He also believes that Walker has a run threat to his game, just like both Watson and rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson do, so he fills a similar skillset.
Van Pelt watched Walker in college as he came out of Temple and evaluated him before the 2017 NFL Draft when Van Pelt was with the Packers as the quarterbacks coach, and Walker visited Green Bay before the draft.
"He's a good thrower, a natural thrower," Van Pelt said. "I think his mechanics are really good. His feet are really good. He listens to his feet. He's in rhythm and throws with rhythm in the pass game. A lot of things that I look for in quarterbacks, and he was a guy that really stood out. I'm like, okay, this guy has a lot of the things that I like."
Walker said this week of practice taking the reps, hearing himself talk about the cadence and calling plays has allowed him to feel comfortable in the Browns offense. Now, he'll get to put his work to the test on Sunday.
There's a certain level of communication that will be required on Sunday as Walker makes his start and commands the Browns offense. That's where someone like WR Amari Cooper comes in. Cooper said that it's important to be on the same page with the quarterback in order to achieve their goals as an offense. That's how Cooper approaches how he communicates. It's a two-way communication style, where he shares what he sees on the field and on certain plays with the quarterbacks, and vice versa.
While Cooper has done so with Watson throughout their time together, it's been an added emphasis throughout the week as Walker took reps with the first team. And Walker sees the advantages to having that level of communication not only with Cooper, but with all the receivers, as he's taken reps with them and learned how they like the ball to be thrown to them.
Van Pelt believes that communication will translate to Sunday's game and help both Walker and the receiving core.
"They have to be on the same page," Van Pelt said. "How are we going to attack certain coverages, certain corners, things like that. And that's always a conversation that goes right up through the game and doesn't end till after the game on Sunday. But very good. Amari is really good at his communication, brings clean, good communication. When he says something, it is what it is. So just keeping that line of communication open all the way through the game."