“Looking back at last year, I can’t believe that was me,” Watkins said this week. “I feel like a whole new player.”
With good reason.
Beginning his second year on the Tigers’ defensive line, the four-star prospect looks like a new man, with his weight and body fat significantly reduced. He is poised to make a significant impact behind frontline players like juniors Josh Watson, Grady Jarrett and DeShawn Williams.
”I’m faster, I’ve learned more, I don’t get fatigued easy,” he said. “Last year, I would look at myself on film and say ‘Wow, too tired, moving slow, not getting to the ball.’ I can tell a great difference now.”
Watkins was considered one of the nation’s top 10 defensive tackle prospects when he signed with Clemson in February 2012, but making a real impact last fall proved difficult. He had 16 tackles in 113 snaps over nine games, making one tackle for loss with three quarterback pressures.
“That was a great learning experience, just getting in the game and feeling the type of environment you were in,” he said. “Now, coming into this year, I knew what to expect. It was a great plus last year getting a little playing time.”
Weight was an issue: Watkins weighed 308 pounds with 32 percent body fat. Going against veteran offensive lines proved tougher than he thought, too.
“The hardest thing was just the offensive line. They were a whole lot more athletic and big,” he said. “Just going against the (Tyler) Shatleys and the Dalton (Freeman)s, all those guys. That was the biggest difference to me. Also, the speed of the backfield was crazy. I really had to adjust to the speed that they played at. I never went against a tempo offense. That really got to me last year.”
Watkins reported to preseason camp much slimmer at 294 pounds and 22 percent body fat, saying he “cleaned a lot of baby fat off.” He has noticed a huge difference.
“This year, it’s a whole lot different than last year,” he said. “In the offseason, I really worked hard, and now I don’t get fatigued as easy. This camp, I can just keep going and going. It’s been a whole lot easier to make that transition.”
This fall, he’ll be part of a deep defensive tackle rotation that could go as many as six deep. He’s working on things like pad level and getting to the gaps quicker, the “little things” he must do to improve.
Slimmer and smarter, Watkins is poised for a big impact.
“I’ve always got a goal,” he said. “I want to be a playmaker. I want to lead the team in sacks, tackles for loss – be a big-time player on the field.”