BEREA — The day Deshaun Watson returned to Browns practice, Amari Cooper got his usual Wednesday Veterans Day off. When Watson returns to actual game action on December 4, however, you can expect him to be looking in Cooper’s direction often.
The quarterback and receiver were able to officially get to know each other again on the field Thursday, the first time they’ve been there together since late August. Cooper knows there’s going to be a lot more time spent together between now and Watson’s return leg in Houston to get back on the same page.
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Cooper said Thursday. “I mean, I didn’t work out yesterday, but after the workout and whatever it takes, talking to him about getting more reps post-workout. It’s actually something I’m really excited about.”
The Browns are really excited about the thought of Watson throwing passes to Cooper. That’s how they envisioned it when they traded for the quarterback on March 18, just six days after acquiring the receiver in a trade with Dallas.
The duo worked extensively together during the offseason program and training camp. However, they haven’t played a game — preseason or regular season — together.
Watson has been serving his 11-game NFL suspension since Aug. 30 for personal conduct violations. The only preseason game he played in Jacksonsville on August 12, Cooper did not play.
That’s why Cooper admitted Wednesday was a big one for him and the Browns.
“It was cool just to be able to see him out there,” Cooper said. “Like I said, I showed greatness in the last interview with you guys. We’ve seen this greatness from Deshaun over and over again. So when you’re with a great player, it’s just great to see, to be great around.”
The players weren’t the only ones who saw Watson on the field for the first time on Wednesday. The same was true of Brown’s coaches, who have only been able to work with him in meetings since he returned to the building on October 10.
So this week was an opportunity for Watson to show the time he had worked outside of the facility with personal quarterbacks trainer Quincy Avery and had achieved results.
“He looked good,” said offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. “I know he worked hard while he wasn’t in the building. I’m glad to see him out there. He made a few shots after training, in what is called a ‘phase of opportunity’. You’re like, ‘Oh, OK, that’s impressive stuff.’ So he looks good. Keep working him in. He’s been in the room for a while now so I think he has a good understanding of how we work in a game week and switching him when the time comes.
The exact plan the Browns have for Watson in practice hasn’t been something coach Kevin Stefanski has spoken about publicly. In fact, he avoided upgrading Watson for his return to the regular season while also setting up Jacoby Brissett for the next two games against Buffalo and Tampa Bay.
Van Pelt acknowledged the challenge this setup presents on Thursday. What is evident, at least from Van Pelt’s words, is that Watson is at least getting some first-team representatives where they can find them for him.
“It’s not difficult, but you just have to focus on what you want to achieve,” said Van Pelt. “Whatever reps you can give Deshaun that you feel Jacoby has a great understanding of doesn’t really need that rep. So you’re trying to make sure you’ve picked the right plays for Deshaun at the same time as not neglecting Jacoby in his preparation.”
Brown’s tight end David Njoku returns to the practice field
David Njoku was back on the practice ground to a limited extent on Thursday. It’s the first time the Browns’ tight end has completed a workout on the field since he sustained a high ankle sprain in Baltimore on Oct. 23.
Njoku had had a strong start to the season before his injury against the Ravens. The tight end had 34 catches for 418 yards and a touchdown.
With Njoku back on the practice court, missing only defensive tackles Jordan Elliott (front) and Perrion Winfrey (head), safety D’Anthony Bell (concussion) and offensive lineman Michael Dunn (back). Right tackle Jack Conklin was working part-time with a trainer as he normally does on Thursdays since returning to action in Week 3.
Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen (elbows) and safety Jordan Poyer (elbows) were both limited in Thursday’s practice. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (groin/heel), receiver Jake Kumerow (ankle), cornerback Cam Lewis (forearm/illness), receiver Isaiah McKenzie (illness), defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (illness), and defensive end Greg Rousseau (ankle) were all absent the practice.
Brown’s DC Joe Woods calls criticism ‘part of the business’
It has almost become a Sunday tradition as the season has progressed. Almost every Browns game will have the “Fire Joe Woods” hashtag trending as fans are frustrated with the performance they are seeing from the defense.
Woods’ defense is currently higher than 17th in any of the four major statistical categories. It is 31st in points per game (26.4), 17th in total yards allowed (349.1), 23rd in rushing defense ( 23rd) and 19th in Pass Defense (218).
That led to the social media attacks against Woods, who was asked about it on Thursday.
“It’s part of the business,” Woods said. “For me, you shouldn’t let that affect you. You can’t ride the roller coaster of emotions. I know what kind of business I’m in – it’s a fair deal – but we’re in the business of winning and right now we’re not doing it so criticism will come. It’s deserved in some cases. I promise you I’m trying everything I can to turn things around, but we have to do it and play better on match day.”
Aims not to reflect Amari Cooper’s status in the game board
Much has been said about the lack of goals Cooper had during Sunday’s loss in Miami. The Pro Bowl receiver was targeted just three times in the 39-17 loss to the Dolphins, catching all three for 32 yards.
It’s the second fewest goal Cooper had this season, behind his one-goal day in Week 4 in Atlanta. However, it is tied with two others – the opener in Carolina and Week 7 in Baltimore – and just one goal short of the four-goal game in Week 6 against New England.
“I don’t know,” Cooper said of the lack of goals. “I caught them all though, so.”
Van Pelt said Miami did a few things, particularly in third place, to try to take Cooper away. However, he also said that goals aren’t the be-all and end-all for figuring out a receiver’s priority on a particular play.
“It’s difficult to really go back and look at the goals to see if we were trying to give him the ball,” said Van Pelt. “A lot of those early calls, he’s #1 in the progression. Again, the defense determines where the ball goes. We definitely have an increased awareness of trying to get him the ball early and often. Sometimes the defense won’t let that happen. Just because he’s been tackled three times has had his number called multiple times without the ball being thrown in his direction.
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