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Danny Watkins, here speaking with reporters (Mosher among them) Friday at training camp, was selected 23rd overall by the Eagles in the 2011 draft. (USA Today Images)
Danny Watkins isn’t talking about the past.
With good reason, of course.
Specifically, the Eagles’ third-year offensive lineman isn’t reflecting on two seasons of being a first-round bust or the contentious relationship with former position coach Howard Mudd mainly responsible for those unfulfilling seasons.
“I’m not going to get into any of that,” Watkins said Friday after the team’s first training camp practice under new coach Chip Kelly. “That’s kind of water under the bridge.”
But you can discern plenty about his feelings for the old regime in the way he spoke about the new one, specifically his thoughts on offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and Watkins’ ability to relate to his position coach.
He called Stoutland, who joined Kelly’s staff after two national titles in two seasons coaching Alabama’s offensive linemen, a “people person” with an entirely different approach to mentoring than his predecessor’s style.
“I think that goes a long way when you’re really passionate about who you want to play for and who’s coaching you,” Watkins said. “I think we have a good relationship and I think that goes a long way.
“I always meet with him on the side. During the minicamps I spent a lot of time with him one-on-one. I’d come right off the field and go into his office. He was very receptive with spending extra time with me and very patient, explaining things through. It’s what you look for in a coach.”
Translation: Watkins spends more time in Stoutland’s office than Mudd’s doghouse.
The question now is whether Watkins’ inability to cement his place in the starting lineup was directly traceable to his fractured relationship with Mudd or if he’s just not cut out for the business.
Watkins said he was disappointed Friday to take the practice fields and line up on the second team at right guard while veteran Todd Herremans ran with the ones. It shouldn’t have shocked him all that much. Watkins mostly ran on the second team at the spring camps, especially after Herremans moved over from right tackle to accommodate first-round pick Lane Johnson.
Does Watkins believe he’s pushing Herremans?
“Uhhhh,” he said, with a long pause. “I’m pushing myself more than anything. I want to be at the heels of those guys, so to speak. I couldn’t tell you if I was pushing them or not.”
Herremans likewise didn’t sound overly concerned that the prospect who briefly lined up next to him on the right side of the offensive line would be nipping at his heels this summer.
“We’ll see,” Herremans said.
Watkins didn’t start until Week 5 of his rookie year and then was yanked from the starting lineup last year after six games. The lockout in 2011 stunted his rookie acclimation, but his inability to grasp Mudd’s unique blocking concepts mainly contributed to his inability to hold the job down in Year 2.
A sudden ankle injury last year that nobody outside of the NovaCare Complex knew about served as the perfect excuse for Andy Reid to bench the struggling guard and move forward with street free agent Jake Scott.
In Year 3, the season in which most first-round picks reach their stride, Watkins is building himself up from ground zero.
“From a technique standpoint, Coach Stout is more of a traditional offensive line coach, I guess you could say,” he said. “And I had always struggled in the first couple of years with Howard’s technique. So I’m not really looking at it as a Year 3 thing. I’m looking at it as, this is starting from scratch and I’m going to take the experience that I’ve got from the first couple of years and try to carry that over and transition that over onto the playing field.”
If the Eagles hadn’t used the fourth overall pick on Johnson in April, maybe Herremans would still be at right tackle today and perhaps an improved Watkins would face a better chance to prove he belonged on the first team at right guard.
Again, water under the bridge.
“[Johnson] is going to help the team, so in one hand, yeah, that’s great we’re going to be that much better up front,” Watkins said. “But it sets me back. But that’s not anybody's fault but mine.”