Browns QB Deshaun Watson ‘in a different space’ after suspension-shaped first season in Cleveland

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — There’s a noticeable difference in Deshaun Watson, a switch in his demeanor, his actions and words.

This summer, football, the game that kept him on course while growing up in rural Georgia, is again at the forefront for the Cleveland Browns quarterback, who believes he’s emerged as a better person from a troubling personal time.

“I’m in the best spot of my life,” he said.

Watson was suspended for 11 games last season by the NFL for violating its personal conduct policy after being accused by more than two dozen women of sexual assault and sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions. Following the team’s second training practice on Sunday, he said he’s not the same.

“I’m in a different space,” he said. “Feel really good, comfortable being around the guys, the locker room, the coaching staff, the organization and just the city of Cleveland.”

Watson spoke with a conviction not always on display in previous interview sessions. While he didn’t offer any contrition, Watson didn’t deflect to other topics and there was a purpose in his responses to questions.

The months he was kept away from the field, the $5 million fine and the mandatory therapy treatment, which he said he has continued, affected him.

“The whole situation changed me,” he said. “It was a situation where I had to lock in on myself, channel and really know who I’m surrounding myself with and just really who’s going to be there and support me even when I’m at my lowest point.

“The last few years are definitely the lowest point in my life, but that’s part of life and I just grow from it. I learn from it. I continue to move forward and push forward and continue to show my real character, my real personality and who I am.”

Now that his legal issues are mostly behind him — two civil lawsuits remain pending — Watson is dealing with a new pressure as he tries to live up to the guaranteed $230 million contract the Browns gave him last year.

Cleveland mortgaged its future, trading three first-round draft picks while taking a mammoth public relations hit for signing a divisive player with so much baggage. His tepid performance in the six games he played following his suspension and the Browns’ 7-10 finish didn’t help matters.

For Watson, the weight has only shifted. He believes he can handle it.

“Pressure’s a broad word,” he said. “A lot of people see it different. With me, it’s a situation where it’s moments and situations, opportunities you fear and you don’t feel comfortable because you haven’t prepared yourself for those moments.

“It will go as far as the quarterback will take us because we touch the ball every play. We’re the leader and we direct where the ball goes and if it gets in the end zone. With this opportunity for myself, I want to be able to embrace that pressure and embrace that opportunity and see what happens.”

The Browns have been impressed with Watson’s commitment in Year 2.

He’s always displayed leadership qualities, but coach Kevin Stefanski has been struck by Watson’s dedication to improve.

“I was walking through the locker room a couple of days ago and quarterbacks had not even reported yet and he’s sitting in his locker looking at plays,” Stefanski said. “I’m like, ‘What are you doing here, man?’ Hes a junkie. He’s a gym rat. You got to shoo him out of the facility.

“And he’s always been that way, and that’s what I think his teammates see from him. I think that’s what his teammates love about him — is they know how committed he is to the team.”

And now, Watson feels the Browns finally know him.

On the team’s first night staying at The Greenbrier Resort, Stefanski asked Watson to address his teammates and tell them his back story. Watson said it was his first chance to share some personal moments that shaped him.

He told them about his upbringing, about not having a father figure in his life, about his mom’s battle with tongue cancer.

“Things that people don’t really get to hear about,” he said. “Especially last year’s been the media directing and narrating something else. It’s been kind of overshadowed. So I had an opportunity to tell that story in front of those guys and look my teammates in their eyes and be able to touch them and let them know why I am who I am is definitely powerful.”

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