He rarely appeared in the locker room when the media was in there. If he did, he walked briskly to his stall — phone fixed to his ear — got what he needed, and then disappeared out of sight. The brief glimpses were of a man who didn’t seem to be enjoying himself whatsoever.
He vanished from the field of play as well. The former first-round pick yielded six QB hits and nine quarterback hurries in the first six games, per Pro Football Focus. Before the seventh game, Andy Reid had introduced us to the term “chronic ankle” and Watkins settled into a reserve role.
“It started off slow and then, I think it was Week 6, my ankle falls apart and I felt it was just one thing after another,” said Watkins. “The team’s doing poorly and I want to support the team the best I can. It was just a real sense of helplessness I guess you could say.”
He wore a different look when he stopped to talk with reporters last week. Less strained, a bit more energized. With Evan Mathis sidelined following ankle surgery, Watkins is running with the first team during these OTAs. He’s back on the left side of the line (he played left tackle at Baylor) and finds it a more natural fit. He has been told by Chip Kelly that there is no depth chart to start, which seems to have Watkins genuinely excited.
And, if he’s honest, he is relieved to be working with Jeff Stoutland instead of Howard Mudd.
“I struggled with Howard, and his coaching and some of his concepts,” Watkins admitted. “But that’s not his fault, that’s on me — that’s my responsibility to get better and do what I need to do. But this is more of a conventional type of offense in the pass protection and run progressions so it feels a lot better.”
Watkins said that he “absolutely” worked out extra hard this offseason and focused on his conditioning in anticipation of Kelly’s up-tempo stylings. He stuck around Philadelphia so he could meet the new coaches and get an understanding of what they were looking for; convinced his new bride to put off the honeymoon so he didn’t have to miss Kelly’s first minicamp.
“He’ s coming along pretty well,” said Jason Kelce. “You can see the knowledge is picking up in there. He’s finally understanding [how] defenses work and everything like that. He’s getting there.”
“Just a learning curve right now because they’re moving him around but he’s getting it,” added Jason Peters.
When he was selected by the Eagles with the 23rd overall pick back in 2011, Watkins was sold as a polished lineman who could jump into the fire right away and perform. It was the rationale that allowed them to draft a 26-year-old guard in the first round. Watkins is now 28 and entering his third pro season, and as his teammates’ comments suggest, the learning process is still very much ongoing.
The hope is that it is now starting to click in place for Watkins; that this change of environment will pull him up to the surface.
“I feel more comfortable,” said Watkins. “I want to start and I want to play. I’m going to go wherever they tell me to go, and do whatever I need to do. I’m having a good time out here and enjoying it. Last year was a bit of a drag but it’s water under the bridge and I don’t have a rearview mirror.
“You don’t want to dwell too much on the past, but you’ve got to learn from it.”
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