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Browns QB Watson practices for 1st time during suspension

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/cleveland-browns-nfl-sports-houston-1b20a34d47d56f9210c3ecc497dff213

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Deshaun Watson whipped a short pass, pulled down on the face mask of his helmet and ducked his head before running across the field while trailing starter Jacoby Brissett and Cleveland’s other quarterbacks.

He is catching up.

Still suspended, Watson is back on the field.

More than two months after he began serving an 11-game NFL suspension for sexual misconduct allegations, Watson practiced Wednesday in what he and the Browns hope is the next step in him taking over as their franchise QB.

It was Watson’s first on-field team workout since Aug. 30, 12 days after the three-time Pro Bowler reached a settlement with the league following accusation by more than two dozen women of sexually inappropriate behavior during massage therapy sessions in Texas.

Watson, who was acquired in a trade from Houston in March, agreed to the ban, to pay a $5 million fine and to undergo treatment and counseling after the league ruled he had violated its personal conduct policy.

Despite temperatures hovering around freezing, Watson wore an orange, short-sleeved No. 4 jersey with matching socks during the 25-minute portion of practice open to reporters. He tucked his hands into a warmer wrapped around his waist in between firing passes to Cleveland’s wide receiver.

Watson did not speak to the media. He was cordial while getting ready in the locker room before practice and chuckled about the “chilly” weather that welcomed him back.

As long as he continues to meet the provisions of his settlement, Watson will play his first regular-season game in 700 days on Dec. 4 when the Browns visit Houston. The Texans drafted him in 2017 before he demanded a trade and was eventually dealt to Cleveland for a slew of draft picks, including three first-rounders.

The Browns then signed Watson to a five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract, the richest in league history.

Coach Kevin Stefanski would not reveal any specifics about plans to get Watson ready to play in two weeks while also preparing Brissett for this Sunday’s game at Buffalo.

“This is the next step for him, and it’s good to have him back out on the field,” Stefanski said. “What’s important is that we do everything we can to find a way to get a win versus Buffalo. That is where the players’ focus is.”

Watson took the majority of snaps with Cleveland’s starting offense in training camp and started the Browns’ exhibition opener at Jacksonville before his suspension kicked in. He was banned from the team’s facility until mid-October, when he was allowed to attend meetings and work out.

Brissett will start two more games before handing Cleveland’s offense over to Watson.

Although the transition will be unusual, especially because Brissett has played better than expectations and become a respected leader in the locker room, Stefanski isn’t worried about any awkwardness.

“You guys know the two parties at hand here,” Stefanski said. “These are professionals. These are good people. They’re friends. I think that is probably the most important thing.”

Brissett quickly dismissed a question about getting his share of snaps.

“That’s not my job to balance it,” he said. “It’s coach’s job to balance how he splits things up. I just have to go out there and prepare like I always prepare. Do my job and then control what I can control.”

Like Stefanski, running back Nick Chubb believes the impending QB changeover will be seamless.

“Jacoby’s our quarterback. He has been since the beginning of the season. So it won’t be awkward at all,” he said. “But we’re also excited to see Deshaun come out and get some reps and see how he’s doing.”

The 27-year-old Watson tried to keep his skills sharp by working with a private quarterback coach during the first month of his suspension. Until this week, Cleveland’s coaches had not been allowed to instruct him.

There’s going to be rust, and Brissett joked that he would assess Watson’s game accordingly.

“We’ll see,” Brissett said when asked if it was good to have Watson back. “If it’s bad, we’ll tell him to stay in for the rest of the year.”

Before his suspension, Watson reached financial settlements with 23 of 24 civil lawsuits filed against him. Another lawsuit was dropped by the plaintiff after she was ordered by a judge to amend her name.

Two grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal charges. During the summer, former federal judge Sue L. Robinson, jointly appointed by the league and players’ union to arbitrate Watson’s case, called Watson’s behavior “egregious” and “predatory” before suspending him.

NOTES: With a blizzard in the forecast, the Browns have discussed other travel options to Buffalo. They’re currently scheduled to fly on Saturday. … LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (knee) practiced after missing his second straight game. RG Wyatt Teller (calf) also returned. He left in the first quarter at Miami. … TE David Njoku (ankle) worked on the side. He’s missed the past two games.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Source: https://apnews.com/article/cleveland-browns-nfl-sports-houston-1b20a34d47d56f9210c3ecc497dff213

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Report: NWSL to expand in Boston, Utah and California

The National Women’s Soccer League is close to expanding by three teams, which will be in Boston, Utah and the San Francisco area, according to a Friday report in the Wall Street Journal.

The women’s pro league previously indicated it would add at least two teams by 2024. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the franchises in northern California and Utah are set to start play next year, with Boston to join at a later date.

The NWSL did not confirm the report in a statement Saturday to The Associated Press, saying: “We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects. When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The NWSL has 12 teams, after Angel City in Los Angeles and the San Diego Wave joined the league last year.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the Boston and Bay Area groups will pay about $50 million in franchise fees. The Utah team will pay a reduced fee because of a previous agreement struck when the Utah Royals folded in the 2020 season.

Before the NWSL draft earlier this month, league commissioner Jessica Berman said it would be “somewhere between days and months, more like weeks, when we’ll be in a position to share information” about an expansion.

“What I can say is that I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we have in front of us,” she added.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Former MVP Candace Parker to sign with champion Aces

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former two-time MVP Candace Parker announced on social media Saturday that she would sign with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Parker spent the past two seasons playing for her hometown Sky, leading Chicago to the WNBA championship in 2021. She also won the 2016 title playing for the Los Angeles Sparks.

She posted on Instagram that Chicago would always be her home, but “my family’s home is on the west coast.

“To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday, and the Aces can’t comment until then.

Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward/center, adds to an already loaded lineup that includes reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who also won the league’s top award in 2020. Wilson also was last season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Chelsea Gray was MVP of the WNBA Finals and Kelsey Plum MVP of the All-Star Game. Wilson, Plum and Jackie Young were All-Star starters.

Parker and Gray were teammates on Los Angeles’ 2016 title team.

The Aces traded one of their key pieces, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, to the Sparks on Jan. 21, creating speculation Las Vegas was creating salary cap room to sign a big-name player.

Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2016 Finals MVP, certainly fits that bill. Even at 36 last season, she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists for the Sky.

“Candace has done so much for our franchise in her time here,” Chicago coach and general manager James Wade said in a statement. “I understand her reasons for wanting to be closer with her immediate family. We wish her nothing but the best. She will always be a part of the Sky family. We will celebrate her time here as she deserves.”

Losing her is a big blow to the Sky, who made the semifinals in last season’s playoffs before losing in five games to the Connecticut Sun. Kahleah Copper is the only starter under contract for next season, so the Sky could head into a rebuild.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to win a championship in my hometown and parade down the same streets I watched the Bulls parade down as a young girl first falling in love with the game of basketball,” Parker posted.

Parker joins the Aces at a time the Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it wanted that organization investigated regarding allegations that Hamby made after being traded. She posted on Instagram she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” because she is pregnant with her second child.

The Aces still have not commented on Hamby’s allegations.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Estrada, Hofstra end No. 18 Charleston’s 20-game win streak

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — This season, Hofstra has been a one-man show. This time, Aaron Estrada had some help as the Pride ended the nation’s longest winning streak.

Estrada scored 25 points, but just two in the second half, while Darlinestone Dubar added 18 as Hofstra had four players in double figures to knock off No. 18 College of Charleston 85-81 on Saturday — ending the Cougars’ 20-game win streak.

“That’s a really big for our program,” Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton said. “To beat a nationally ranked team on their home court when they’ve got it rolling like they do speaks volumes about our kids.”

Claxton saw a team effort to take down the hottest team in the country.

“It wasn’t just Aaron,” Claxton said. “He had a great first half, but we had other guys step up and make baskets or get rebounds when we really needed them.”

The loss ended Charleston’s spotless run that began after losing to then-top-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 11.

Hofstra, the CAA’s leader in field-goal shooting, used that to move past Charleston in the second half as it made 18 of 32 attempts. The Pride led 76-69 with 6:10 to play before the Cougars cut it to two points on Ryan Larson’s foul shots with 2:02 to play.

But Charleston managed just two free throws after that and missed all four 3-pointers they tried.

This is the second straight season the Pride have beaten a Top 25 team. A year ago, Hofstra defeated then No. 24 Arkansas 89-81. The Pride’s only other victory against a Top 25 team came against Southern Illinois in 1976.

Hofstra (15-8, 8-2 Colonial Athletic Association) beat the Cougars (21-2, 9-1) at their own game — 3-point shooting. The Pride were 11 of 22 from 3-point range and overall shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half.

Estrada, who had 23 points in the opening half, shredded the Cougars defense at will. Estrada was 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

“Estrada is a great player, hit a bunch of tough shots, especially in the first half,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Hofstra is a very, very talented team. It’s not just Estrada. They were better than us tonight.”

Then Estrada took over. The CAA’s leading scorer at 21.1 points a game scored 16 of the next 24 points for the Pride, including four 3-pointers.

Ante Brzovic’s dunk at the buzzer gave the Cougars a 46-44 advantage at halftime.

Tyler Thomas had 17 points and eight rebounds for Hofstra.

Brzovic finished with 18 points to lead the Cougars.

BIG PICTURE

Hofstra: The Pride are on a roll in 2023. winning seven of their past eight games, including three in a row.

College of Charleston: The Cougars chances of receiving an NCAA Tournament at-large bid took a major blow with the loss to the Pride. Despite having the nation’s longest win streak for three months, Charleston will most likely have to win the CAA Tournament in March to advance to the NCAAs.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

The Cougars’ 20-game win streak wasn’t the only streak to end on Saturday. College of Charleston played 14 of its first 23 games at TD Arena to start the season and were a perfect 13-0 at home before facing the Pride. Charleston’s 13-game home win streak included three wins in the Charleston Classic. The Cougars became the first mid-major program to win the ESPN event, beating Virginia Tech 77-75 in the championship game. Charleston will finish the season playing four of their final eight games on the road.

POLL POSITION

Charleston’s first loss in nearly three months might drop the Cougars from the national rankings. They have been part of the last four rankings, entering at No. 23 before reaching No. 18 this past week.

UP NEXT

Hofstra returns home to play Towson on Thursday night.

College of Charleston starts a two-game road trip at Drexel on Thursday night.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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