Optimism growing for new-look Browns offense

McAfee applauds extensions for Browns' Stefanski and Berry (1:36)

Pat McAfee explains why he is excited about Kevin Stefanski and Andrew Berry signing contract extensions with the Cleveland Browns. (1:36)

BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns' final practice of their offseason workout program was a sign of the progress quarterback Deshaun Watson and the offense have made in installing their new scheme.

There was Watson, throwing the ball as aggressively as he had in any practice open to the media. Many passes went for chunk gains during seven-on-seven drills, including a completion in tight coverage to tight end David Njoku along the sideline. Another, a 50-yard pass that just bounced off wide receiver Elijah Moore's fingertips in the end zone, was the longest reporters had seen Watson attempt.

"I've gotten to see him throw throughout the course of his rehab," coach Kevin Stefanski said after practice. "I don't know when it was but a while back, he looked very normal to me. So, that looked normal to me."

As the Browns put a bow on offseason workouts with the final day of mandatory minicamp on Thursday, there is growing optimism in the new-look offense.

"It is juicy," Njoku said. "I am not going to say anything else. Leave it at that. But I'm really excited for this year."

This offseason, the Browns hired Ken Dorsey to replace Alex Van Pelt as offensive coordinator. Dorsey has a background in coaching mobile quarterbacks -- he worked with Josh Allen and Cam Newton -- and is bringing changes to the drop-back game the team hopes mesh better with Watson's skill set. Watson, a three-time Pro Bowl selection with the Houston Texans, has struggled since being traded to Cleveland before the 2022 season. Since making his debut as a Brown, Watson's 41.9 QBR is the sixth-worst mark in that timeframe.

In particular, there has been a focus on choice routes, which give wide receivers the freedom to break in multiple directions depending on a defender's leverage. Watson has familiarity with choice routes dating to his time in Houston. The concept requires the quarterback and pass-catcher be on the same page.

The extent of the offense's installation has been a bit limited by Watson's return from last November's shoulder surgery that cost him the final nine games of the season, including the playoffs. During the offseason workout program, Watson threw every other day with rest days in between. He progressed to participate in seven-on-seven drills during minicamp but did not throw in 11-on-11 work. It's still unclear if Watson will be cleared to fully practice when training camp opens in late July, but coaches and teammates praised his diligence, which included taking mental reps when he wasn't scheduled to throw.

"I've seen intentional leadership of him taking mental reps, like he is one of the best quarterbacks in this league," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "I've seen a consistent growth and just him focusing on his shoulder routine, focusing on building that strength back. And when he throws it, he spins it, so I haven't seen anything of lack."

While Watson works his way back from injury, there remain questions about his supporting cast.

Watson went the majority of the offseason workout program without throwing to his top receivers, Amari Cooper and Jerry Jeudy. Cooper, who is entering the final year of his contract, wasn't seen at any voluntary workouts open to media and did not show up to minicamp, which Stefanski said was an unexcused absence. Jeudy, whom the team traded for and gave a three-year extension in March, also did not participate in minicamp as Stefanski said he was "working through things."

In the backfield, Nick Chubb remains sidelined by the severe knee injury that cost him all but two games in the 2023 season and required two surgeries. Chubb recently said he doesn't have a target date to return to the field.

And up front, offensive tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. and Jack Conklin were kept out of offseason workouts as they continue to work back from season-ending knee injuries. Stefanski didn't provide a return timeline for either player.

But to Watson, it's just a matter of time to iron out the intricacies of a new scheme.

"There's a lot of opportunities for each and every one of the guys that's out there, all the skill guys," Watson said. "Even for myself, as a quarterback of this offense, in this system, I got to make the right decision to get the ball in the receiver's hands and let them go to work. So, I'm excited about it, and we just got to continue to put in a lot of work before game one."