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OG Watkins: One Year Better

Posted Feb 22, 2012

Silence. Space. A dark corner in the locker room all to himself. In the early afternoon at the NovaCare Complex, Danny Watkins could stretch out and breathe deeply, stretch out, move at the pace he wanted to move ...

One year later, Watkins is in a totally different world

Two months ago, Watkins was going through what the NFL football guys call "the process." It begins for a college football player the instant his collegiate playing days are finished. It involves primping and preening and preparing for everything the pre-draft throws a young man's way.

It is exhausting. At times, it can be humiliating.

The purpose, of course, is to make a player as attractive as possible for the NFL draft. In the case of Danny Watkins, well, he was attractive enough after a fantastic career as a left tackle at Baylor for the Eagles to use a first-round draft pick on him last April. Watkins, who reported late to training camp while working out his contract, caught up fast enough to start 12 games and earn some All-Rookie Team recognition.

The Watkins now is far different from the Watkins of 2011. A left tackle at Baylor, Watkins moved to right guard last season and, well, it was chaos for everyone in every corner of the league in August and September. There was no pre-training camp period to adjust, no playbooks to study, no camaraderie to build. Watkins played in a preseason game only days after reporting to Lehigh University for his first training camp.

A blur. It was a blur. Two thousand eleven blew by quickly.

"Mentally, you're now able to stand back and say, 'OK, now I know what to expect.' It's not such a big unknown," said Watkins. "You know what you are getting into and what you need to do to prepare for a season.

"Last year was amazing. It was great. But it was weird, because the lockout changed everything. I went through that whole pre-draft thing, and there was so much stress and then there was the draft and I was an Eagle. I felt great about it. Then, for months, we couldn't do a thing because of the lockout. Then everything meshed together and before I knew it, we had a bye week. That's how fast things went by for me.

"I'm going 'Holy Smokes.' I was getting ready to rock and roll and then, here we are, the season is over. I was surprised at how quickly everything went by."

From a football standpoint, Watkins got better and better. He "got" what offensive line coach Howard Mudd wanted from him. He adapted to the tempo of the game and the nuances of the left guard position.

Given some perspective, Watkins is pretty pleased with his play in year one.

"Every week it just got better and better," he said. "You could see it. Playing left guard, it was starting to come for me. I felt good about my progress, and I know I have a lot of work to do. I'm looking forward to it."

One year ago, Watkins was in Indianapolis at the Scouting Combine. He was coming off a superb performance at the Senior Bowl and was being projected as a top draft pick. Indianapolis, as it turned out, lacked the drama.

Watkins was prepared for the show.

"It's kind of funny now, watching TV and seeing guys going through what I went through preparing for the Combine. It is such a stressful time. You know you have a plane ticket, but you don't know where you are going. I definitely don't miss it," he says, laughing. "Right after our last game at Baylor, I went to Arizona and started training for the Combine and the Senior Bowl.

"I think the most stressful thing for me was the Senior Bowl, because that's what everybody is watching. We practiced and played a game there. The Senior Bowl for an offensive lineman is a big track meet. There were only a few things that were position-specific. Running a 40-yard dash and stuff like that, that's not really what a lineman does. Bench press is important and position-specific drills were important, but that was it. Interviews, not a problem. Important for sure. If you're a people person, the interviews aren't a big deal.

"I wasn't worried about the Combine as much as I was about the Senior Bowl and the pro days. In order, it was the Senior Bowl, the pro days and then the Combine."

Instead of sweating it out at the Combine, as he did last year around this time, Watkins got in some early-week workouts at the NovaCare Complex before heading to Texas for some fun, Watkins-style.

He'll spend the weekend hog hunting -- he's on the back of a truck with a spotlight and a rifle, not hunting hogs down with dogs and knives ("I'm not that squirrely," he said) -- and enjoying his first NFL offseason.

"They're like rats down there," he said. "They are everywhere."

Watkins isn't going to run a 40-yard dash this weekend. He isn't going to work on agility drills, or sit down with a dozen teams and answer questions about his background. Watkins instead is a professional looking to become the best player he can be, so he is putting in his work, getting his down time, and preparing for his second NFL season.

That old saying about "What a difference a year makes" in Watkins' case is as pronounced as it comes. He has a home, a position and a great idea of what it takes to be great.

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