BEREA, Ohio (AP) — The Cleveland Browns didn’t wait for Deshaun Watson to tell them he couldn’t play.
Two weeks after Watson surprised them before kickoff by saying he couldn’t play with a shoulder injury, the Browns officially ruled the quarterback out Friday and named P.J. Walker, currently on the practice squad, their starter Sunday against unbeaten San Francisco.
Watson, who unexpectedly sat out an Oct. 1 loss to the Baltimore Ravens despite being medically cleared by the Browns, didn’t practice this week with a bruise suffered on a running play against Tennessee three weeks ago.
Watson had been expected to return this week following the team’s bye, but the 28-year-old didn’t practice at all and instead stayed inside the team’s facility for rehab.
Approached at his locker, Watson told The Associated Press the injury has improved and that he’s been “doing all medical procedures” to get back. Watson also said he didn’t know if he’ll be back next week when the Browns (2-2) play at Indianapolis.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski declined to provide any specifics on what Watson did this week behind the scenes.
He did confirm that Watson did some throwing on his own, but Stefanski, who has reiterated that the QB’s shoulder does not have a tear and is structurally sound, wouldn’t characterize any level of improvement.
“It’s part of a rehab, so he’s making progress,” Stefanski said. “He’s getting better. He’s very disappointed. He wants to play. He wants to be able to compete with his teammates, so he’s just got to focus on getting better every day.”
Watson’s injury didn’t appear to be serious a few weeks ago. Although he was limited in practice during the week leading into the Baltimore game, Watson had insisted he would play before telling the team he couldn’t following an on-field workout three hours before kickoff.
The Browns started rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who had a rocky NFL debut, throwing three interceptions in a 28-3 loss.
Stefanski has been somewhat guarded with comments about Watson, who was hurt in the second half of the Sept. 24 win over the Titans. The injury came in Watson’s best performance in his nine starts since signing a controversial $230 million contract with Cleveland last season.
Watson served an 11-game NFL suspension for allegations of sexual assault and harassment before debuting for the Browns.
Stefanski said Watson has to be able to “function” and has no doubt the former Pro Bowler with Houston would play if he felt he could help the Browns.
“I know what he’s made of,” Stefanski said. “I know how badly he wants to be out there. I know how badly he wants to compete. I’ve seen him play through injuries. He’s a very tough individual, so he’s pushing through it. He’s going to be out there as soon as he’s ready.”
Until then, Walker, who was signed in August, will start.
The 28-year-old was moved ahead of Thompson-Robinson on the depth chart this week, and his experience should give the Browns a little more confidence going against the 49ers (5-0), who have won 15 consecutive regular-season games.
Walker went 4-3 in seven starts over the past three seasons for the Carolina Panthers. In 15 career games, he’s completed 131 of 228 passes (57.5%) with five touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Walker said he’s undaunted and relishes being a heavy underdog.
“I’ve been there before,” Walker, who put himself on the radar of NFL teams by starring in the XFL. “We’ve been there before. It’s going to be what it’s going to be. So for me, it’s nothing that we can control. That’s what the outside noise is. So for us, we’re gonna go out there and prove them wrong on Sunday.”
Walker has already pulled off one surprise win, leading the Panthers to a 21-3 win last season over Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
However, its nothing he’s hanging his helmet on.
“For me, it ain’t about that,” he said. “It’s going out there. It’s a new day, new game. I can’t go out there thinking about what I did last year, whole different team. So I’m with these guys right now. And that’s all that matters.”
NOTES: Browns All-Pro LG Joel Bitonio (knee) will also sit out Sunday, ending his streak of starting 102 straight regular-season games. Stefanski said Bitonio had his knee scoped during the bye week. … TE David Njoku returned to practice after missing three days. He’s still recovering from burns to his face and hand suffered when he was starting a fire pit at his house. Despite his injuries, Njoku played two days later and caught six passes in a loss to Baltimore on Oct. 1.
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