BEREA — The day Deshaun Watson returned to Browns practice, Amari Cooper was getting his usual Wednesday veteran’s day off. When Watson returns to actual game action on Dec. 4, though, you can expect he’ll be looking at the direction of Cooper often.
The quarterback and receiver were able to officially reacquaint themselves on the field Thursday, the first time they were together there since late August. Between now and Watson’s return game in Houston, Cooper knows there’ll be a lot more time spent together to get back on the same page.
“I’ve thought about that,” Cooper said Thursday. “I mean, I didn’t practice yesterday, but after practice and everything like that, just whatever it takes, talking to him, getting more reps in after practice. It’s actually something I’m really excited about.”
The Browns are really excited about the thought of Watson throwing passes to Cooper. It’s what they pictured when they traded for the quarterback on March 18, just six days after they acquired the receiver in a trade with Dallas.
The duo worked together extensively throughout the offseason program and training camp. However, they have yet to play in any game — preseason or regular season − together.
Watson has been serving his 11-game NFL suspension for personal conduct policy violations since Aug. 30. The only preseason game he played in, on Aug. 12 at Jacksonsville, Cooper didn’t play.
That’s why Cooper admitted Wednesday was big for him and the Browns.
“It was cool just being able to see him out there,” Cooper said. “Like I said, in the last interview with you guys, had greatness on display. We’ve seen that greatness on display from Deshaun over and over again. So anytime you’re around a great player it’s just great to see, great to be around.”
The players weren’t the only ones to get their first look at Watson on the field on Wednesday. The same held true for Browns coaches, who have only been able to work with him in meetings since his Oct. 10 return to the building.
So this week’s been a chance for Watson to show the time he’s worked away from the facility with personal quarterbacks coach Quincy Avery had produced results.
“He looked good,” offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. “I know he’s been working hard while he’s been away from the building. Excited to see him out there. He made some throws after practice in what we call an ‘opportunity period.’ You’re like, ‘Oh, OK, that’s impressive stuff.’ So he looks good. Continue to work 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 transitioning him in when the time comes.”
The exact plan the Browns have for Watson in practice hasn’t been something coach Kevin Stefanski has talked about publicly. In fact, he’s avoided how they were going to ramp Watson up for his regular-season return while also getting Jacoby Brissett prepared to start the next two games against Buffalo and Tampa Bay.
Van Pelt acknowledged Thursday the challenge that exists with that setup. What is evident, at least by Van Pelt’s words, is that Watson is getting at least some first-team reps where they can find them for him.
“It’s not tough, but you just have to have intent on what you’re trying to get done,” Van Pelt said. “What reps that you can give Deshaun that you feel like Jacoby has a great understanding of that doesn’t actually need that rep again. So, you’re trying to make sure you have the right plays selected for Deshaun while, at the same time, not shorting Jacoby in his preparation.”
Browns tight end David Njoku gets back on the practice field
David Njoku was back on the practice field on Thursday in a limited basis. It’s the first time the Browns tight end had gone through an on-field workout since sustaining a high ankle sprain on Oct. 23 at Baltimore.
Njoku was off to a strong start to the season until his injury against the Ravens. The tight end had 34 catches for 418 yards and a touchdown.
With Njoku back on the practice field, the only absences were defensive tackles Jordan Elliott (personal) and Perrion Winfrey (head), safety D’Anthony Bell (concussion) and offensive lineman Michael Dunn (back). Right tackle Jack Conklin was working off to the side with a trainer, as he’s typically done on Thursdays since returning to action in Week 3.
Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen (elbow) and safety Jordan Poyer (elbow) 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 from practice.
Browns DC Joe Woods calls criticism ‘part of the business’
There’s become almost a Sunday tradition over the course of the season. Almost every Browns game, the hashtag “Fire Joe Woods” will start trending as fans get frustrated with the performance they’re seeing from the defense.
Woods’ defense is currently ranked no higher than 17th in any of the four major statistical categories. It’s 31st in points allowed per game (26.4), 17th in total yards allowed (349.1), 23rd in rushing defense (23rd) and 19th in pass defense (218).
That’s led to the social media attacks directed at Woods, who was asked about them on Thursday.
“It is a part of the business,” Woods said. “For me, you can’t let it affect you. You can’t ride the emotional rollercoaster. I know what type of business I am in — it is a fair business — but we are in the business of winning and, right now, we are not doing it so that criticism is going to come. It is deserved in some instances. I promise you, I am trying to do everything I can to get the thing turned around, but we have to execute and we have to play better on gameday.”
Targets no reflection on Amari Cooper’s status in game plan
Much has been made about the lack of targets Cooper had during Sunday’s loss at Miami. The Pro Bowl receiver was targeted just three times in the 39-17 loss to the Dolphins, catching all three of them for 32 yards.
It’s tied for the second-fewest targets Cooper’s had this season, behind his one-target day in Week 4 at Atlanta. However, it’s tied with two others — the opener at Carolina and Week 7 at Baltimore — and just one target fewer than the four-target game Week 6 against New England.
“I don’t know,” Cooper said about the lack of targets. “I caught all of them though, so.”
Van Pelt said there were some things Miami was doing, especially on third down, to try to take away Cooper. However, he also said that targets aren’t the end-all, be-all for figuring out a receiver’s priority on a given play.
“It’s tough to really go back and look at targets as a way to judge whether we were trying to get him the ball,” Van Pelt said. “A lot of those early calls, he’s No. 1 in the progression. Again, defense dictates where the ball goes. We definitely have a heightened awareness of trying to get him the ball early and often. Sometimes the defense doesn’t allow for that. Just because he was targeted three times, his number was called multiple times without getting the ball thrown his way.”
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