Deshaun Watson's first (only?) start this year: What to know about Browns preseason opener

·6 min read

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. − Deshaun Watson's Browns debut − and what could be his only 2022 appearance − arrives Friday night in Jacksonville. That's when he's supposed to start their preseason opener against the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field.

Or, Watson's entire season with the team could be over before it even starts. At this point, no one quite knows what to expect or when to expect it, which has been par for the course throughout the NFL disciplinary proceedings involving the new starting quarterback.

Cleveland Browns:How to watch the Cleveland Browns vs. Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday night

Disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson's decision of a six-game suspension for Watson was issued on Aug. 1. Two days later, the NFL announced it was appealing the decision, with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handing those duties off to Peter C. Harvey to handle on his behalf.

The Browns departed Cleveland on Wednesday afternoon still not knowing the outcome of that appeal. They went to bed on Thursday night still not knowing.

“I think you know me well enough where we are just dealing with today," coach Kevin Stefanski said on Tuesday, the final training camp practice before the team left for Florida. "I do not know any other way to do it. I think the team understands that, as well.”

Cleveland Browns quarterbacks Deshaun Watson, left, and Josh Rosen, right, watch from the sideline during the NFL football team's football training camp in Berea on Wednesday.
Cleveland Browns quarterbacks Deshaun Watson, left, and Josh Rosen, right, watch from the sideline during the NFL football team's football training camp in Berea on Wednesday.

At some point after 7 p.m. Friday, Watson might trot out with the rest of the first offensive unit. Or, it might be Jacoby Brissett.

If Harvey were to return a full-season suspension, which is what Goodell and the league are looking for, and it comes out before kickoff in Jacksonville, that would mean Watson's season would be over. That's barring a last-minute court injunction issued on his behalf, a Hail Mary of sorts by the NFL Players Association.

A full-season suspension means Watson would not be allowed to participate in any team activities, per the personal conduct policy. If there were a chance of him playing this season following a suspension, as it stands pre-appeal, then he can participate up until the Aug. 30 cutdown date.

There was a report from the Associated Press on Thursday evening stating that Watson would be willing to accept an eight-game suspension and a $5 million fine to avoid the season-long suspension. However, there's not been any indication the two sides have held a settlement negotiation recently, as they did prior to the original ruling.

Barring a settlement, the ball is in Harvey's court, so to speak, to see if the ball will be in Watson's hand for the first Browns offensive snap on Friday night. Whether Watson plays or not, the Browns will still have an exhibition game to play.

There's a few things to keep an eye out for in what is the first of three preseason games. That starts with the individuals on the other end of the passes, be it from Watson, Brissett, Joshua Dobbs or Josh Rosen.

All eyes on young Browns receivers such as Mike Harney Jr., JaMarcus Bradley

The spotlight will be on the quarterback position. The ones catching the passes from the quarterbacks will be under a microscope as well.

The receiving corps was always going to be a major topic of conversation during the preseason. The litany of injuries which have befallen that group in the first two weeks of training camp have only added to the intrigue.

It won't be Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones or even Demetric Felton Jr. who will be in focus in Jacksonville. It might not even be rookie David Bell or second-year pro Anthony Schwartz, depending on how much they play.

It's going to be the young and unproven receivers, such as Mike Harney Jr. and JaMarcus Bradley, who really have a chance to make some noise. With Jakeem Grant Sr. the latest receiver to go down with an injury, a season-ending injury no less, there's a spot or two potentially open for one of those youngsters to come up and grab.

The preseason opener is as good a time as any to try to get a leg up on that competition. At least until the Browns go out and add a veteran to the room at some point before the regular-season opener.

How much time for Browns starters such as Nick Chubb, Myles Garrett and Amari Cooper?

Within the Browns' announcement that Watson was scheduled to start against the Jaguars was also the indication that most of the other starters were at least going to get some reps as well. There will be a few who will not, but exactly whom isn't known at this time.

That's the question Kevin Stefanski has to answer before kickoff. Is it really worth the risk to get someone like Nick Chubb or Myles Garrett, even Cooper, a handful of snaps?

Two things would work against that idea. The biggest is the two joint practices the Browns have lined up next Thursday and Friday in Berea against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Those practices are a much better way to get those key players the kind of work they need to prepare for the season. They'll be within a controlled environment, but will still be contested with a game-like feel.

The bet here is no more than a series for any of the starters on either side of the ball against the Jaguars. At least the ones who will actually get some run.

Big opportunity for Perrion Winfrey, Tommy Togiai and younger Browns defensive tackles

Taven Bryan might not play a whole lot in his big return to the town where his NFL career started, and the state in which his college career blossomed. That's fine, because it just provides a lot more snaps for a lot of guys who the Browns need to see against outside competition.

The defensive tackle position has been, right there alongside receiver, a position of intrigue for training camp. It's due to a number of players who have all sorts of potential, but very little proven NFL production.

Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Tommy Togiai works on a pass rushing drill during training camp on Saturday, July 30, 2022 in Berea.
Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Tommy Togiai works on a pass rushing drill during training camp on Saturday, July 30, 2022 in Berea.

Well, that opportunity is there against the Jaguars. Jordan Elliott, Tommy Togiai and Perrion Winfrey are three players in particular who have less than three years of prior experience under their belts.

All three are individuals who have been mentioned by defensive line coach Chris Kiffin as players he's hoping to see take a step forward in terms of productivity. Nothing like getting one's first shot of the preseason at someone other than their own teammates to make an impression going into the final month before the opener.

Contact Chris at ceasterling@thebeaconjournal.com.

On Twitter: @ceasterlingABJ

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns preseason opener first, maybe only, start for Deshaun Watson