BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Deshaun Watson was limited in practice Thursday. In this case, that was a positive development for the Cleveland Browns.
Watson tested his injured right shoulder by throwing passes in his first practice in nearly three weeks, moving him closer to possibly starting this week against Indianapolis after missing two games.
Watson has been sidelined with a strained rotator cuff, an injury that has prevented him from throwing with much velocity.
The three-time Pro Bowler couldn’t put any timetable on his return Wednesday, but Watson was back on the field with his teammates for the first time since Sept. 29 as the Browns (3-2) continued to get ready for the Colts (3-3).
As coach Kevin Stefanski and coordinator Alex Van Pelt watched, Watson, wearing an orange No. 4 jersey, threw roughly two dozen passes during the portion of practice open to media members.
After making some short tosses to Cleveland’s running backs and tight ends, Watson grew more confident with each pass and finally threw the ball with more zip. However, he never seemed to fully cut it loose and several of Watson’s passes were underthrown.
Cleveland listed him as “limited” on its injury report.
Simply his return to the field was welcomed by the Browns, who have spent the past few weeks in a sometimes awkward limbo as they waited for him to return from an injury Watson described as “tricky.”
Watson explained he has some small tears in his rotator cuff and said he’s never dealt with anything like it in college or the NFL.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” he said Wednesday. “I want to be on the field.”
As long as there are no setbacks, Watson could start Sunday, and it’s possible Stefanski will announce his QB’s game status after Friday’s practice.
If Watson isn’t ready, veteran P.J. Walker will make his second straight start. Walker, who was on the practice squad at this point a week ago, helped the Browns upset the San Francisco 49ers 19-17 on Sunday.
Watson has made just nine starts in two seasons with the Browns, who signed him to a $230 million contract despite a legal entanglement after he was accused by two dozen women of being sexually inappropriate during massage therapy sessions.
He’s been dealing with the shoulder injury since taking a big hit on a designed running play on Sept. 24 against Tennessee. Watson missed the Oct. 1 game against Baltimore, and following the team’s bye, he didn’t practice at all last week before being ruled out for the Niners.
Before practice, Van Pelt said the plan was for Watson to “make some throws” during Thursday’s workout.
Van Pelt was eager to see how Watson looked throwing, and praised the 28-year-old for staying engaged during rehab.
“He’s been great in the room, very positive last week with P.J. as a starter,” Van Pelt said. “So he’s doing all the right things, but I know it’s tough for him. He wants to be out there worse than anybody.”
Watson hasn’t had a chance to build off his best game since coming to Cleveland. In the 27-3 win over the Titans, he completed 27 of 33 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns.
Cleveland has been leaning on its top-ranked defense in recent weeks, but the Browns need to get their offense going and Watson’s return would help.
“It would be a huge boost,” said wide receiver Amari Cooper, who was the first to indicate Watson would practice. “Deshaun is our guy. At the end of the day, we all know who Deshaun is. We’ve seen all the plays that he’s been able to make throughout his career. It’s just like any other team.
“You’re confident when your starting guy is in the lineup 100%, so it’ll be a huge boost.”
NOTES: Starting LB Anthony Walker practiced after he suffered a concussion on the second-half kickoff against the Niners. … All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio heard from some former teammates, including Hall of Fame tackle Joe Thomas, after he missed last week’s game following a procedure on his knee. Bitonio said it was bittersweet to have his streak of 102 consecutive starts — and more than 6,000 straight snaps — end. “I wanted to be out there for the guys,” he said. “So it was a hard decision for me to make anyway with the surgery. It’s almost in a weird way kind of a relief, you’re not worried about your helmet snapping off or your shoelace breaking or anything like that.”
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