BEREA (AP) — Browns rookie Dawand Jones does everything extra large, so it’s no surprise his first NFL start will be on a colossal stage.
Against Steelers star T.J. Watt.
Are you ready for some football?
“Can’t wait,” Cleveland’s unassuming 6-foot-8, 375-pound right tackle said on Thursday. “Honestly, I couldn’t ask for nothing else.”
His matchup against Watt, one of the NFL’s most feared edge rushers, will go a long way toward deciding if the Browns can follow up a Week 1 win over Cincinnati by knocking off the Steelers, which have won 20 consecutive Monday night home games.
Jones passed his first test last week when he came in after starter Jack Conklin suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first half.
A fourth-round pick from Ohio State who dreamed of an NBA career before focusing on football, Jones more than held his own against Bengals end Sam Hubbard in Cleveland’s 24-3 win.
Watt, though, is on another level.
To prepare, Jones has spent the past few days studying video of the three-time All-Pro linebacker, looking for tendencies and anything that might help.
In person, Watt’s even more impressive.
“He just does not quit,” Jones said of Watt, who had three sacks in the Steelers’ season-opening loss to San Francisco. “He has a motor of like of nonstop moves. My major thing is I need to limit him to some of them, use my length and my strength to my best ability.”
Jones outweighs Watt by at least 120 pounds.
The 22-year-old’s wingspan gives him another advantage, as it allows Jones to initiate contact and control rushers.
However, Watt has a deeper-than-normal toolbox jammed full of jukes, spins, twists and other moves to help the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year get to quarterbacks.
Jones is confident the Steelers, which move Watt from one side to the other, see his No. 79 as a bullseye.
“Because I’m younger, a rookie, they’re going to try to definitely make me a target,” he said. “I have to step up to the plate, step up to the challenge.”
After a slow start, Jones has been taking steps in the right direction.
He struggled with his conditioning during minicamp, at one point pulling himself out of drills to vomit.
He was also constantly in the crosshairs of line coach Bill Callahan, who paid special attention to him.
But Jones has made steady progress, recently overtook third-year tackle James Hudson III on the depth chart, and came to the rescue when Conklin went down.
Browns linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. was impressed with how smoothly Jones stepped in against the Bengals.
“Just a testament to him, his hard work,” Walker said. “He’s a wonderful person to be around every day, full of energy and he takes that same approach on the field and he’s always ready to go, so definitely proud of him.”
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski couldn’t identify any turning point for Jones this summer.
And now that he’s assumed a larger role sooner than expected, Jones can’t let Monday night’s bright lights blind him.
“It’s important for all of our players to narrow your focus going into ‘Monday Night Football,’” Stefanski said. “You really have to focus on your job and doing your job. Dawand’s played at a high level in big games with where he went to college, so he understands that. But you can’t and he can’t make this about just him. It’s really about our offense versus their defense in that regard.”
He may be disguising it well, but Jones doesn’t seem overwhelmed by the matchup against Pittsburgh.
He’s played in loud, hostile environments, noting that Ohio State’s game at Michigan in 2021 — when he was matched at times against star end Aidan Hutchinson, now with Detroit — was great training.
Jones is aware of the pressure on him to protect quarterback Deshaun Watson.
But he intends to treat it like any other game.
“It is prime time,” he said. “Everybody’s watching you, so you can’t let nobody down, can’t let yourself down, can’t let the team down and that’s just my main goal.”
NOTES: S Juan Thornhill (calf) remains out after missing the opener. Stefanski said it’s a “day to day” injury. DTs Shelby Harris (Achilles tendon), Maurice Hurst (hamstring) and Siaki Ika (foot) also missed practice. … DE Myles Garrett, G Joel Bitonio, WR Amari Cooper and Walker were all kept out for rest.