'Cleveland against the world'? Browns' Joel Bitonio downplays road reaction to Deshaun Watson

BEREA, Ohio − The boos didn't come in a trickle. They came down like a strong Florida rain storm.

Deshaun Watson had barely crossed the threshold onto the field at TIAA Bank Field for the first play of Friday's preseason game before the Jacksonville fans unleashed their first round of boos onto the Browns quarterback. They continued throughout the three series in which Watson played.

Preseason games don't typically illicit fan reactions of any type. Strong, tepid or anywhere in between.

Most preseason games, though, don't involve an opposing quarterback whose availability for the game was in question even hours earlier due to a potential of getting handed a full-season suspension at any point. That's the world in which the Browns now reside since the March 18 trade with Houston to bring Watson to Cleveland.

"You know, I think once Deshaun came out of the game we got booed less, but you go to a road game they boo you anyway, so you know what I mean?" All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio said prior to Sunday's training camp practice. "So we'll see how it goes. I'm sure, it seems like more than ever, Cleveland against the world, so we'll be ready for it."

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson warms up before a preseason game Friday in Jacksonville.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson warms up before a preseason game Friday in Jacksonville.

The boos were the nicest reaction Watson received in Jacksonville. A video taken by a fan in the stands that was tweeted out by Barstool Sports caught several fans shouting a chant capped with an expletive at him during the game.

Watson didn't speak to the media after the game. Bitonio, who did not play against Jacksonville, said he spoke with him a couple of times on the sidelines during the game, mostly about the play calls as they were happening.

Watson finished his three series on the field 1-for-5 passing for 7 yards, with David Njoku making the catch. He played a total of eight official snaps, not counting penalties.

"I haven't talked to him about that," Bitonio said of the crowd's impact. "I'm sure not playing football in however long it's been is probably a bigger concern. But the crowd was loud for a preseason game in Jacksonville. They got pretty loud down there.

"The whole offense was just a little sloppy to start. I think to put it on one person is tough. I think it's something we want to start faster. We had penalties and drops and bad throws and missed blocks. All those things just added to a sloppy start for us. I think if we can get off to a better start, it's going to help the whole operation."

All of that reaction, again, for a preseason game. The next time the Browns go on the road will be for the regular-season opener in Charlotte on Sept. 11.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson during warm-ups.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson during warm-ups.

Of course, Watson won't be the quarterback for the game in Carolina. That will be Jacoby Brissett, who did not play against the Jaguars and also won't play next Sunday in the second preseason game against Philadelphia.

The crowd's response wasn't on coach Kevin Stefanski's mind. Nor will it be a topic of any conversation he has with the team.

“Yeah, I don’t," Stefanski said. "I just think, as you can imagine, it’s our job to focus on the things that are important in those game setting, and that’s our job and what we’re doing and we’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we focused on anything that people were saying about us before the game, during the game, after the game, those type of things.”

Exactly when Watson does play another road game remains to be seen. It all depends on what ruling ultimately comes down from the NFL's appeal of the six-game suspension Watson received from disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson on Aug. 1.

Peter C. Harvey has been pondering a decision since Aug. 4, when he was designated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to hear the appeal. Goodell has made clear his desire to see Watson's suspension extended for the full season, which would mean the quarterback could not participate in any team activities until he's reinstated.

There were reports late last week indicating the sides were open to the potential of a settlement in the matter. There's been no indication, though, if or when it could occur.

That leaves Stefanski to go with what he believes is the best route for the team as a whole. In this case, it means beginning the process of preparing Brissett to be the team's starting quarterback.

"Obviously we know he's going to be unavailable starting Week 1," Stefanski said of Watson. "This has been our plan. I think he understands what we're doing. He's on board."

That means, for the first time since Watson was acquired by the Browns, he won't be getting the bulk of the practice reps. Throughout the offseason program and through the first three full-squad camp practices, he was exclusively getting those reps.

Brissett only started to get any first-team reps of substance on July 30, the fourth full-squad practice. Now, less than a month from the opener, the plan shifts to getting even more reps for Brissett and even Joshua Dobbs, who likely moves into the backup role during Watson's absence.

"We have to get everybody ready to play," Stefanski said. "Deshaun, certainly, still needs to continue to improve in all areas. He'll get his work. I just think you'll see the share of the majority going to Jacoby."

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This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns teammate downplays road boos, chants against Deshaun Watson