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Deshaun Watson's Return to Practice and the Next Three Weeks

As Deshaun Watson takes the practice field on Monday for the Cleveland Browns, the next three weeks becomes critical in getting him prepared to take the field. What that could look like.
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Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson takes the next step in the process of returning to the field, getting the green light to participate in practice Monday. He might start to get some reps with the offense, but the Browns are trying to win the two games before he is scheduled to take the field in December, so Watson's going to take on an important role to help himself get ready while helping the team prepare for their next two matchups - Scout team quarterback.

Watson's 11-game suspension that resulted in the NFL's belief that his behavior with massage therapists was egregious and predatory has less than a month remaining. He's been able to be in the building for treatment and meetings the past several weeks while working out on his own outside of it under the direction of his private quarterback, Quincy Avery.

Now, he's going to get work in individual drills with his position group. Watson's mechanics and footwork should be fantastic since that's been one of the things that he could control and work on during the suspension, so this should be a clean transition.

Being available for practice but not being able to play provides the Browns with a unique opportunity for the next two weeks. Having Watson operate as the scout team quarterback as a way to fast track his acclimation to game speed and provide the defense the best in-season look they will get all year. First, Watson will play the role of Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills and then operate as Tom Brady when the Browns prepare to host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Combined with the full week of practice he will have with the starting offense in preparation for the Houston Texans could go a long way in getting him prepared for a productive return to the field. He's going to be making reads and throws against a starting defense, getting back to NFL speed.

Certainly, he needs to develop chemistry with his receivers, but it's not as if he won't have a foundation there. Watson practiced with these receivers throughout the summer. Almost three months without working together will have an impact, but the Browns receivers will have already in midseason form, so it shouldn't be a difficult transition for them.

For their part, players like Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones and David Njoku might want to work with Watson outside of the practice environment, but the toll of the season can make that unrealistic. Njoku is trying to recover from a high-ankle sprain as an example, so the team doesn't want them overdoing it and either delaying recovery or creating a new issue.

Watson should not be expected to perform miracles the moment he steps on the field, but with three weeks in a competitive environment after staying prepared the last three months, he should be far more prepared than people might expect. The Browns offensive supporting cast will also go a long way in helping Watson return to form.

The bigger concern with Watson is how he handles the adversity of opposing crowds. Whether in his time with the Clemson Tigers or Houston Texans, Watson has largely been beloved. Now, he's going to be a villain. The villain. It could understandably be a jolting experience to have 60,000 people simultaneously hate him.

It's also difficult to imagine a way to prepare for that. Even as much as Watson can attempt to steel himself, knowing that he's going to have to deal with this element, until it happens, he likely cannot truly process how he will feel.

That variable may simply be unknowable, but Watson should be able to get himself ready enough in the next three weeks of practice to provide a boost for the Browns on offense the moment he steps onto the field.

Defenses can't afford to assume that Watson won't be ready, focusing all of their attention on stopping running back Nick Chubb, the tactic virtually every team has tried to employ against the Browns. They have to prepare like Watson is ready to fire on all cylinders or risk being picked apart on the back end. Should Watson struggle, they can always adjust their personnel closer to the line of scrimmage, but  Chubb should have more space to run. The mere fact the Browns are forcing defenses into considering how they will employ their defense already upgrades the offense before Watson ever takes a snap.

These three weeks are critical for Watson. If he brings a sense of urgency to practice, it's likely going to ramp up the intensity for everyone else which has the potential to raise the level of play across the board. Until Watson takes the field against the Houston Texans, we won't know how good he will be but we could get a hint of it if there's a little extra juice from the Browns in practice and then against the Bills and Bucs.