The Texans' quarterback, who was preparing for his second NFL season, could take part in only 7-on-7 drills when the program started in April and began 11-on-11 drills late in training camp. Though Watson worked with DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller while he was rehabbing, he could not go all-out with his receivers early in the offseason.
Now, entering Year 3, Watson has been able to focus on simply improving his game instead of having to rehab an injury, and Texans head coach Bill O’Brien says he believes that extra time on the field will make "a big difference" and pay huge dividends for the quarterback in 2019.
"I don't think [Watson] has a ceiling," O'Brien said on The Adam Schefter Podcast. "I think that it's hard to put a ceiling on a guy like that because of who he is, how he works, his ability, his skill set [and] his passion for the game.
"He has had, now this season, a whole offseason of no limitations and coming back to the offseason program, a full go, can do everything. Training camp, full go. Last year, that wasn't the case. He was limited in training camp, limited in the offseason program, so now he'll have a full offseason, which I think will be big."
In his second season, Watson completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 4,165 yards, with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He played through serious injuries to his ribs and lungs but did not miss a start.
"I think there's a lot of things he can do to improve," O'Brien said. "He knows that; we know that. We're going to try to improve some things around him. He's working hard to improve his knowledge of defense, improve his mechanics, the way that he processes information, all of those things.
"When he comes back, we'll start progressing with where we are with the playbook and we'll start talking to him about those things."
One thing the team will help Watson to continue to work on is the balance between being able to hold on to the ball to make throws deep downfield and being able to protect himself from taking hard hits. While some of his hardest hits came when he scrambled with the ball, Watson was also sacked an NFL-leading 62 times in 2018.
"He's an excellent deep-ball thrower," O'Brien said at the NFL owners meetings. "He throws the ball down the field as well as anybody. He has great feel for that. We can help that with teaching him a few things, getting him to another level of his defensive knowledge, and then with us, schematically, protection-wise, route-wise, having an ability to scheme some things up that can help him. Then, having everybody out there. Hop [Hopkins], obviously, Will Fuller and Keke Coutee, that helps, too. That helps stretch the field at different levels. That's why we're looking forward to the offseason program, training camp. Trying to continue to build that connection between Deshaun and those guys."
Though the Texans have tried to put the right weapons around Watson in the passing game in his first two seasons, Hopkins, Fuller and even recently, Coutee, have been unable to consistently stay on the field together because of injuries. Houston hopes with a full offseason of work, the group can play up to its potential next season.
"There's a ton of upside with Deshaun Watson," general manager Brian Gaine said. "Great kid, great skill set and we're optimistic that the ceiling is really high with him. ... Now, he's going to have a full offseason with [DeAndre] Hopkins, with [Will] Fuller, with [Keke] Coutee, with the full skill set of the offense, all of the guys out there working through the OTAs and the minicamps, the timing of that, the coordination of that, the silent communication of that, I think that will pay great dividends for us."