Browns want Watson to be more explosive in 2023

BEREA — Deshaun Watson put on a little fireworks display Wednesday in the only organized team activity practice of the week open to the media.

He went deep twice to speedster Marquise Goodwin, once in 7-on-7s and once in team drills, hitting him both times for TDs. It was a departure from last week, when Watson missed a couple of deep balls in the open practice.

“Connection was elite today, man,” Goodwin said after practice. “Just grateful for the opportunity. Deshaun is electric. You see that arm? He’s got God’s arm, for sure.”

Signed to a one-year free agent deal in the offseason largely for his world-class speed, Goodwin had heavenly hands to go along with that divine arm on Wednesday. He got open deep down the right side in 7-on-7s to haul in the missile from Watson, who shot an imaginary arrow after the play.

In 11-on-11s, Goodwin got behind the entire defense, stretched out for the ball, and made a spectacular diving catch, celebrating on his back in the end zone with outstretched arms. Some observers questioned whether or not it was actually a touchdown, but Goodwin, 33, was having none of that.

“I just saw the ref (signaling touchdown), so I think I was in,” Goodwin said.

He got no argument from offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, who digs the long ball and is looking for more of them.

“We had two explosives today where we stretched the field,” Van Pelt said. “Bringing in Marquis and Elijah’s [Moore] has been a boost to that room with their playmaking ability and their speed down the field. Just getting a feel for those guys right now and their timing and their pass routes. That’s the big part, but impressive. We hit a couple deep balls today that—we’ve circled that as an area of improvement and it showed up today, so that’s a good start.”

Missing a couple last week inspired Van Pelt to dial up a few more this week for Watson, who has a gun.

“We’re going to keep pushing those balls down the field,” Van Pelt said. “Something we’ve talked about. Keep throwing them so we all get on the same page.”

In evaluating the 2022 season, Van Pelt and the rest of the offensive coaching determined that they needed to hit more big plays. Last season, Watson, who was suspended the first 11 games of the season and hadn’t played in 700 days when he returned to the field Dec. in Houston, completed only 3-of-13 passes of 20 yards or more in his six starts (23.1%), with one touchdown and two interceptions.

He finished 52nd among quarterbacks in the deep ball category, earning a 42.0 rating. With off-the-charts arm talent, such stats certainly aren’t going to cut it.

It didn’t help matters last year that their young speedster, 2021 third-round pick Anthony Schwartz, struggled much of the season, and that Amari Cooper suffered his core muscle injury down the stretch and couldn’t open it up.

They made a concerted effort to unleash the passing game, and it started trading for Moore and signing Goodwin.

“How can we get that done?” Van Pelt, who doubles ad the quarterbacks coach, said. “Maybe some route combinations we change up or put some different people in those spots, but definitely something we’ve highlighted as an area that we want to improve in.”

The addition of Goodwin alone should ignite the explosives.

“Well, his speed down the field’s world class,” Van Pelt said. “So, a safety that may feel like he’s deep, may not be deep enough that you could run by. That’s one of the areas that I think he’ll help us there, stretching the field, taking the top off and if they don’t respect it, being able to make the play down the field for a big explosive.”

Of course, with Watson’s crazy arm talent, he makes it easy for a receiver to do his job. On Wednesday, Goodwin had to turn on the jets and reach for the ball, but he left defenders much younger than him in his wake and hung on through the dive.

“It’s really humbling to work with somebody as elite as Deshaun,” Goodwin said. “I don’t really have to guess or wonder, is he going to throw it far enough? Is he going to throw it? I look in the air and I’m like ‘dang, I have to run.’ So when you have somebody who is dedicated and is focused and experienced as he is elite, it just makes my job easier. All I have to do is run.”

Of course, he has to make the catch — something that didn’t happen often enough on the deep ball last season. Receivers having to adjust to Watson after 11 games with Jacoby Brissett was part of the problem.

“That’s the most important part that I feel like people lose sight on,” Goodwin said. “Yeah, I can run a route, I can do whatever. I can make the DB fall, but if I drop the ball it was for no reason. So you have to catch the ball.”

On Wednesday, he caught two, and if they keep up like this, fireworks will be a weekly thing.