Watkins bringing some attitude to Eagles offensive line

Eagles first-round pick Danny Watkins and Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers share a laugh at Engine 49.
Eagles first-round pick Danny Watkins and Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers share a laugh at Engine 49. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 30, 2011

Since Danny Watkins didn't start playing football until he was 22, he had some time to make up.

That meant the peewee football moments had to come in college for the offensive lineman.

"He made a guy from Texas Tech cry one time," said Randy Clements, Watkins' offensive coordinator at Baylor. "That was probably one of the funnier ones."

The Eagles' new offensive lineman may be mature in years, but the 26-year-old plays the game like a kid, according to those closest to Watkins.

And this kid can be downright nasty.

"When I see the guy getting beat, and he doesn't want to be there anymore, I definitely don't lay off the gas pedal," said Watkins, who was at the NovaCare Complex on Friday, a day after the Eagles made him their top draft pick.

In this case, it meant some verbal abuse for the Red Raiders defensive lineman, Clements said, and a certain karate chop.

"It may have been a hand to the jugular," Watkins said.

The Eagles haven't had an offensive lineman that could be labeled a tough guy since Jon Runyan manned right tackle for a decade, so you can see the appeal the 6-foot-3, 310-pound Watkins had for Eagles coach Andy Reid.

Set aside Watkins' talent for a moment and how he projects to immediately start at either guard spot. The British Columbia native and son of a road grader, raised on hockey and rugby, could be as popular with Eagles fans as tailgating and booing.

"To me, it's a marriage made in heaven," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "He fits exactly what Philadelphia loves to represent, and that's a tough-guy, no-nonsense guy that's just going to bow his neck, go to work, and look to kick somebody's butt."

While Watkins is mean on the field, he isn't stupid. Briles said his starting left tackle was flagged only once for a personal foul last season.

"He's pretty sly about it most of the time," Clements said. "We always tell him, 'The referee will get on you for that hand.' But I do tell him, 'Go out there and test the waters and see if you've got problems.' "

Watkins' father, Todd, joined his son in New York for the NFL draft party and drove with him to South Philadelphia. He said when his son played youth hockey, he would get whistled if he checked another skater because he was so much bigger than everyone else.

"So then he would check him and scoop him in his two arms," Todd Watkins said. "And he'd lay him down on the ice."

It didn't matter. He still was called for roughing.

"He's like the guard dog," the elder Watkins said, panting and then growling. "At home he plays with the kids, and he's licking the kids. And then afterward he goes out in the yard and it gets dark out, and he ain't so nice no more."

Todd Watkins played some football growing up, but in Kelowna, British Columbia - about 200 miles east of Vancouver - hockey reigns supreme. Danny played on defense growing up, but at some point - probably because of his size - he became "the designated goon."

Still, the fundamentals of skating backward and his experience as a defenseman made his late transition into football and blocking that much easier.

"As a [defenseman] in hockey he's not moving back, but say holding his ground to stop a forward from getting his shot on goal," Todd Watkins said. "It's very similar to the way he played left tackle."

But the teenage Watkins was still a long way from football. In high school, he became enamored of firefighting - initially to get "out of math class" - and became a firefighter upon graduation.

After four years of battling fires, Watkins enrolled at Butte Junior College in California, where he studied fire sciences. Recruited by the coach, he decided to give football a try.

Butte has produced its share of pros - former Dallas guard Larry Allen and current Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

"OK, I don't know who that is," Watkins said, recalling when he first heard about Rodgers. "Sounds like a nice guy."

Two weeks after his first organized practice, Watkins played in his first game. It was trial by fire, so to speak. For much of the season, his teammates had to explain the rules.

"There was no five-minute penalty for getting a fight," Watkins said.

But he picked up the blocking quickly, thanks in part to his hockey history, and by his sophomore season Butte coaches were sending his tape to Division I-A programs. California, Hawaii, and Baylor were interested.

Briles said he was convinced after watching Watkins for two plays.

"He was trying to destroy somebody," he said. "I also liked the way he carried his body. He's a big, physical guy that walked with a lot of strong, tough demeanor. Those guys are just not out there."

Watkins arrived in Waco, Texas, for his junior season and fit in immediately. His outgoing personality endeared him to teammates. His childlike enthusiasm for the game was infectious. Clements would tell his guests at Baylor football games to just key on Watkins for 60 minutes.

"He's the guy that can be really trying to hurt you and be smiling at you at the same time," Clements said. "He just likes to mix it up. It's comical, some of the stuff he does."

Does that make him dirty?

"Gosh, I hope so," Briles said.

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.

Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Jeff_McLane


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