Eagles' Watkins gaining confidence

Posted: July 28, 2012

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - At the end of last season Howard Mudd had each of his offensive linemen write a self-evaluation.

Among the starters it was Danny Watkins - the one who struggled the most - who was most honest, the Eagles' offensive line coach said.

"And he was spot on, I mean spot on, about himself and where he needed to go," Mudd said this week at training camp. "It was really quite incredible."

Where Watkins needed to go wasn't some goal-oriented place like the Pro Bowl, and it had nothing to do with the particulars of blocking. He wrote that he needed to escape that place deep inside all of us that often separates those who accomplish great things from those who don't.

"I call that the 'Valley of Darkness,' " Mudd said. "You get somewhere and then you start doubting yourself, doubting, doubting. And then the ball is snapped, and you don't have a clue where you are. You can be very amateurish, if you will. And then all of a sudden it starts to click again, and you quit doubting yourself."

When Watkins reported to training camp last August - several days late because of contract negotiations - he arrived with many doubts. Watkins may have been the Eagles' top draft pick, but Mudd was getting a guard who had been playing football for only four years, and one who did not have an offseason because of the lockout.

Mudd once described his task with Watkins as teaching graduate-level Spanish to a student who hadn't even gone through Spanish I. Watkins sat and watched the first four games, but Mudd treated him as a starter, having him huddle in practice with the first group as a confidence builder.

"Fear's a big deal. It's not fear of getting hurt, it's fear of failure," Mudd said. "It happens in all sports. Why does a hitter, all of sudden he can't hit it and then next time it looks like a basketball?"

Watkins started by the fifth game, but still had moments when he looked very amateurish, as Mudd noted. There continued to be setbacks, as one would expect for a rookie, but they became fewer and fewer as the line jelled late in the season.

"Obviously being a first-round pick there's a lot of pressure on you," Watkins said Friday after practice. "I think a lot of it is confidence and getting good at what you want to do and understand the system and the scheme."

Even though Mudd said that he saw a player who had much more confidence by the end of the season than he did in August, he still thought Watkins had too many doubts. But this offseason, with the benefit of spring workouts, Mudd said he was hopeful Watkins had turned a corner.

"I think it's more than hopeful," Mudd said. "I would think that he's well on his way, because once you get 'it,' whatever 'it' is, it's something that you can recover from easily. It's when you have doubt you don't get 'it.' "

Watkins' first-year struggles weren't just on the field. The Canadian-born guard had trouble adjusting to life as an NFL team's first-round draft pick, especially one in a football-obsessed town.

"The biggest shock for me is just, I've always been a pretty quiet, easygoing guy, and then one day you get people running up to you and people coming to your door at your home and knocking on it and wanting to talk about football," Watkins said. "It's just weird. It takes quite a bit of getting used to."

Watkins would often rather talk firefighting than football. He was a part-time firefighter in his hometown of Kelowna, British Columbia, and attended Butte College in California to study fire sciences.

When he purchased a home in South Jersey he made sure a fire station was just around the corner. He recently said that he spent more time there during the offseason than at home.

After the Eagles drafted Fletcher Cox in the first round this April, Watkins said he saw the defensive tackle sitting outside the NovaCare Complex after practice waiting for a ride.

"I took him to the airport and we were kind of shooting the breeze and just talking and he said, 'How tough was it coming in here with no OTAs?' " Watkins said. "And I said it was pretty tough. And he said, 'Man, it's different from college.' "

Watkins then laughed as if he understood Cox's fears.

Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.


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