BEREA - The Browns' season had been over for barely an hour when Deshaun Watson made clear what was one of his first priorities.
"I'm just going to go in there and meet with (coach) Kevin (Stefanski) and we going to sit down, watch the tape," Watson said following the season finale at Pittsburgh. "What we can do? What's the plan? What I like, what do he like?"
No two individuals within the Browns' coaching staff or players need to more be on the same page coming out of this season than Watson and Stefanski. That's because those two hold the keys to the offense's future.
The last six games of the Browns' 7-10 season were all about getting Watson re-acclimated to the game after missing the first 11 games due to his suspension for more than two-dozen accusations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault during massage appointments while he was still the quarterback of the Houston Texans. On top of that, he had to learn a whole new system after being traded by the Texans to the Browns last March.
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That re-acclimation period ended with the loss to the Steelers. The process of getting quarterback and coach on the same page both now and in the future commenced with Monday's exit interviews.
"We're going to have a man-to-man conversation, nothing negative or anything like that," Watson said Monday. "But just what can we do to be better offensively. And as a team, my next step in taking this team and taking that leadership role is really stepping up there and really taking this whole locker room under my wings. I'm looking forward to that. This year was kind of tough with being in the building, being outside the building, all the different changes and all the unknowns. But going into this 2023 season and having a pretty clear view of what we can look forward to, I think I can have the opportunity and that's the role I want to make sure I challenge myself and take over."
There is almost zero doubt the offense the Browns were running over the final six games will look different when they kick things off for next season in September. It will no doubt, while still having a significant dose of running back Nick Chubb, feature a whole lot of Watson.
The way Watson was used in the final six games didn't give much of an indication of what that looks like ultimately. There were flashes, very brief glimpses of the potential - see the second half at Washington - that it held.
However, the total package of that offense is something both Watson and Stefanski are anxious to explore. That's why the two were already starting those conversations.
"You always want your quarterback to be involved in high-level discussions about your offense and what you are doing because ultimately when the quarterback is comfortable in those plays, he makes them work," Stefanski said. "It is just pretty simple. Constantly having that dialogue with Deshaun. Have done it ever since he has been starting. You do that with all of your starting quarterbacks. He wants to be involved. He will be in town. We will spend a lot of time together - as much time that is allowed, I should say."
Stefanski and Watson weren't allowed as much time as they could've had in their first year after the March 18 trade. That's because of the suspension which left two unable to speak from the time Watson had to leave the building Aug. 30 until he was allowed back in on Oct. 10.
The suspension was always expected to have an impact on Watson's growth. It didn't just keep him from playing in regular-season games - something he had last done on Jan. 3, 2021, prior to his Browns' debut Dec. 4 - but it also kept him from the experiences which can only be gained by going through things like that.
"Anything that you do, you can be from anything personal to any activities to work, just having that layoff is definitely tough because you don't get the full effect," Watson said. "You don't get the emotions, the mood swings, the adversity, all that different stuff that you can kind of mentally think of, but it's different when you live in it and go through it full speed."
That's why Watson has tried to avoid grandiose statements of where he expected himself to be, both this season and beyond. He has been asked repeatedly about when fans can expect to see the 2019 or 2020 version of him, the version which was going to the Pro Bowl and garnering him a spot in the conversation about the most elite quarterbacks in the game.
Watson has responded over and over that he was unwilling to set some kind of timetable on when or if that version was coming back. It was rarely on display during his six-game run this season, when he completed just 58.2% of his passes for 1,102 yards and seven touchdowns with five interceptions.
Now that Watson has gone through that initial relaunch phase, he knows some may go back to those lofty expectations. He doesn't begrudge fans their right to do so, but also wasn't willing to join them.
"Taking the time off and then stepping into a new situation, that was going to be tough to do," Watson said. "Not saying that I can't do it and I wasn't going to be able to do it, but as a realist, I knew that there were going to be some challenges and some ups and downs. … For me to be able to go to these expectations for 2023, yeah, the expectations should be high because we have the talent, we have the potential and we have the people and the pieces to be able to meet those expectations. We have to make sure that we are doing everything that we can do consistently each and every week to try to meet those expectations."
Contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @ceasterlingABJ
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns QB Deshaun Watson wants 'man-to-man' talks with Kevin Stefanski
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