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It hasn’t gone well for Danny Watkins. Not last year. Not the year before. Not since he entered the NFL as a first-round draft pick in 2011.
“Last year was a bit of a drag,” Watkins said after practice at the NovaCare Complex earlier this week. “It’s water under the bridge. You 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.”
Watkins played in 11 games last season. He started six of those – none of which came after the Week 7 bye. Part of that was because he suffered an ankle injury, and part of that was because he simply didn’t perform the way he or the Eagles hoped.
“It started off slow,” Watkins said. “I think it was Week 6, the ankle falls apart. And it just seemed like it was one thing after another. And the team’s doing poorly. And I want to support the team as best I can. It was just a real sense of helplessness, I guess you could say.”
You could say that, yes. Then Watkins said some more about last season – about how he and at least one of the now-deposed coaches didn’t quite connect.
“I struggled with [former offensive line coach] Howard [Mudd] – his coaching and some of his concepts,” Watkins continued. “That’s not his fault. That’s on me. That’s my responsibility to get better and do what I need to do.”
He did not get better. He did not do what he needed to do. Now, perhaps, the 28-year-old is fighting make the roster. If he doesn’t perform well in OTAs and training camp, there’s always the chance Watkins might get released before the season begins.
His current situation is radically different than the one he was in coming out of Baylor just two years ago. The NFL.com pre-draft evaluation of Watkins noted his weaknesses (“new to the game,” “does not have arm length and first step explosion,” “occasionally has lapses in his reads”) but projected him to “be a quality starting guard.” The analysis also said “he has very high upside and will likely be a second day pick.”
Instead, Watkins was taken on the first day with the 23rd-overall pick and has yet to demonstrate his “high upside” or develop into anything resembling a “quality starting guard.”
Watkins – who took snaps at left guard on Monday – hopes that will change under new offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. While the rest of the offense has been described as innovative and up-tempo, Watkins said the blocking schemes more closely resemble a “conventional” approach.
“It’s what we did in college,” Watkins said. “It’s more of a conventional offense in the pass protection and run progression. It feels a lot better.
“[Kelly] told me there’s no depth chart. That’s exciting to me. I’ve been working a lot with Coach Stout. I’m very eager. I want to start. That’s my job. That’s what I’m here to do. I want to start.”
If his expectations for himself sound optimistic, they also sound like the expectations Stoutland has for Watkins. After Kelly introduced his staff, Stoutland said Watkins could not only make the roster but compete for a starting job (see story).
“Danny is a winner,” Stoutland said at the time. “You can win with Danny. He’s very athletic. With offensive linemen, you look to see if they have the appropriate size. Then you want to make sure they’re explosive and they have good athleticism. These guys on the other side of the ball, they’re all athletes and they have tremendous explosiveness to them. You have to have guys on the offensive line that can compete with that. He has that.”