BEREA, Ohio (AP)Deshaun Watson isn’t practicing, and it’s looking more likely that he won’t be playing this week either.
Cleveland’s starting quarterback missed his third straight practice on Thursday as he continues to rehab a bruised rotator cuff in his right shoulder, an injury that may keep him out of Sunday’s game against the unbeaten San Francisco 49ers.
While Watson stayed inside, P.J. Walker again worked with Cleveland’s starting offense. If Watson can’t play, and signs are pointing to that being the case, Walker will make his debut for the Browns (2-2).
Watson hasn’t practiced fully since Sept. 22, two days before he injured his shoulder on a running play in a win over Tennessee. The 28-year-old was limited the following week in practice but was expected to play against Baltimore.
However, Watson couldn’t throw with any velocity during a workout about three hours before kickoff and it was decided he would sit against the Ravens.
Coach Kevin Stefanski initially said it was Watson’s decision not to play – despite being medically cleared by the Browns – before general manager Andrew Berry offered the choice was made mutually by the QB and team.
Whatever the case, Watson hasn’t returned to the field and it’s still not known who will start against the 49ers.
“It’s up in the air,” Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said before practice. “Obviously if Deshaun can make it, that’d be great. And if he can’t, then P.J. will be just fine. So we’re ready for either scenario.
“Obviously we’re going to give him every chance to make it to the game.”
On Wednesday, the Browns moved Walker ahead of rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson into the backup role. Walker made seven starts over three seasons in Carolina, and he gives Cleveland’s coaching staff more comfort if he has to start.
Thompson-Robinson struggled in his NFL debut, throwing three interceptions in a 28-3 loss to Baltimore.
Van Pelt said it’s possible Watson could play without practicing, but ideally it would be better for him to get some practice reps.
While the Browns have said Watson’s shoulder is structurally sound, he’s still not able to perform at a high level.
“It’s not fun when your living is throwing the football and you can’t throw it how you’re used to throwing it,” said Van Pelt, who spent nine seasons as a backup QB with Buffalo and battled his share of shoulder injuries.
“It’s tough. It’ll take some time, but when he’s ready, he’ll be ready to roll.”
Because of the mixed messaging, Watson has been criticized in some circles for not playing with what seems like a minor injury.
Van Pelt, though, said it’s unfair to judge Watson without knowing the extent of his injury.
“I would never, ever, ever doubt his toughness,” Van Pelt said. “I’ve seen him play. I’ve seen him do some amazing things, fight through things. That is not the issue at all whatsoever. If I’m a running back and I can’t run full speed, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make it.
“I might be cleared medically, but I can’t operate with my strength, which is my legs as a runner, so same as a thrower for him. I would never, ever, ever doubt his toughness. He’s tough as nails. He’s a fierce competitor.”
NOTES: All-Pro LG Joel Bitonio (knee) also missed his third practice in a row, putting his availability in question for Sunday. Bitonio has started 102 consecutive games. If he’s out, Michael Dunn will start. … TE David Njoku (burns) also sat out again. He’s recovering from burns suffered on Sept. 29 in a firepit accident at home. Njoku played two days later and had six catches in the loss to Baltimore. “He was able to play through it, which was amazing,” said wide receiver Amari Cooper. “Just putting a helmet on, I’m sure, was very painful. So imagine getting tackled. Your helmet always coming down. You’re sweating. It was a lot he had to deal with. I commend him for that.”
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