BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Deshaun Watson was impossible to miss in his orange jersey, pants and helmet — the one with “Watson” taped on the front just in case anyone wasn’t sure.
As he showed off his right arm with tight spirals, engaged in friendly trash talk, smiled and laughed while interacting with new teammates, the Browns quarterback didn’t look a bit distracted by the storm swirling around him.
Hours after two of the massage therapists accusing him of sexual misconduct gave graphic descriptions to a national TV audience of sessions they say scarred them, Watson continued a career that could still be put on hold.
Watson, who signed a fully-guaranteed $230 million contract with Cleveland in March, practiced on Wednesday as the NFL moved closer to ending an independent investigation into whether he violated its personal-conduct policy.
The 26-year-old Watson didn’t speak to reporters, but did make a brief appearance in front of the media following the workout to present linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. with a gift — presumably for giving up No. 4 to accommodate the QB.
“Appreciate you,” Watson told Walker.
“Appreciate that,” Walker said, placing a small, square box with the Rolex logo at his feet while opting not to open it in public.
It’s been another eventful 24 hours for Watson and the Browns, who have received some criticism for signing the three-time Pro Bowler to the richest contract in league history while he’s engulfed in legal issues.
On Tuesday night, Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes, two of the 22 women fighting Watson with civil lawsuits alleging he sexually assaulted or harassed them while he played for Houston, appeared on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” to recount their experiences with him.
Their emotional and at times disturbing stories personalized the matter for many people. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said he didn’t watch the episode.
“I read about it,” Stefanski said when asked why he chose not to view it. “We did a lot of work on that as we’ve talked about. We did a lot of work on Deshaun the person and there’s legal proceedings ongoing. There’s an investigation ongoing, so I won’t comment much further than that.
“We understand with respect to that, it’s something that we’re going to be dealing with as these proceedings go on.”
Until the league renders a decision whether to suspend Watson, or the sides come to a monetary settlement, his tangled situation will hover over the Browns. On Tuesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league is “nearing the end” of its investigation but gave no timetable for a decision on possible discipline for Watson, who could be facing a multi-game suspension.
And while it would be understandable if Watson let the scrutiny or constant attention affect him, his teammates say the opposite has been true.
“He does a good job coming in every day and leaving outside, outside and coming in and focusing on football while he’s here,” said Walker, who played against Watson twice a season when he was with Indianapolis. “I can’t speak on anything else, but I know when he’s here, he’s locked in and happy to be back on the field, and we’re happy to have him as our quarterback.
“He’s confident, looks good throwing the ball, and I know what he does on game day.”
Watson has been slowly building bonds and trust with the Browns. Last week, he treated more than two dozen offensive teammates to a trip to the Bahamas.
Running back Nick Chubb has been impressed with how quickly Watson has taken control.
“He’s a great guy to be around,” Chubb said. “We all love him. He’s a natural leader. He’s been here since OTAs started. He took his own trip. I think those things bring in trust and bonding for our team.”
Like many of his teammates, second-year cornerback Greg Newsome II is still getting to know Watson. Newsome was asked if Watson has addressed his ongoing legal situation with the team.
“Nah,” Newsome said, “and I don’t think that’s any of our business. His job in here is to play football and when he comes in here his job is football, not to tell us about his personal matters. He leaves those outside.”
NOTES: All-Pro DE Myles Garrett and Pro Bowl G Joel Bitonio were among the few players not attending the voluntary workouts. … Following practice, a few Browns played “knockout” on a portable basketball hoop Stefanski once had at his home in Minnesota. “Just to watch these guys compete, it’s just such a pillar of what we are trying to do here,” Stefanski said.
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