|by David Hood|
Watson effectively threw down the proverbial gauntlet to his teammates when he challenged their manhood and toughness, and it worked as the Clemson defense turned in perhaps its best effort of the season against LSU, a 25-24 Clemson win in which LSU gained just 219 yards, only 99 on the ground.
Following Monday’s practice, the redshirt junior once again made a bold statement, one he thinks that he and his teammates can once again back up: He thinks Clemson can have a Top 10 defense in 2013.
Watson told the media that the defense got better each week in 2012, and now the players are able to watch film of every play last season, see the mistakes and get better.
“We actually went back and watched the Auburn just for fun,” Watson said. “We would just look and close our eyes and it was like, ‘Were we really that bad the first time in the Georgia Dome?’ I think we became a better defense last season, and I think we showed we can be a top-level defense.”
Watson said the growth came from added maturity.
“It’s maturation. Being able to see ourselves on film,” he said. “Last spring, it was all Oklahoma, Oklahoma. This spring, we get to see ourselves on film, see the mistakes we are making, and we are able to correct them. And we have the best coach in the country in Coach [Dan] Brooks.”
He then said he looks at Clemson’s improvement over last season, and he thinks that Clemson’s defense can make even bigger strides this season and be a top 10 defense, if not better.
“We are trying to double that improvement,” he said. “We think we can have a special defense. We think we can have a top 10 defense, if not number one. That is our goal and we are not striving for anything else.”
The remarks are eerily similar to the ones he made before the bowl game, talk that he and his fellow defenders backed up.
“I’m a man just like they are,” Watson said of LSU. “They put their pads on the same way we do. They aren’t any bigger or stronger than I am, honestly. Whatever they throw at us, I’m ready to take it - plug up my gaps, get off blocks, make some plays and keep them off my linebackers so they can scrape over top and make some plays, too. I’d like to prove some people wrong.
“People like to think we aren’t as physical because they have an SEC logo on their jersey, so they are automatically tougher than us. We want to show them that we put on the pads the same way they do. We can compete at that level as well. Every week, our toughness has been questioned. I’ve been hearing it for twelve weeks straight. But we have to go out and perform, I have to put my hand in the turf and prove it. This is a game of performance and not talking.”
Watson said Monday that he has given up the life of a typical college student on the weekends. Instead of going out with friends, hitting the hot spots and having a good time, he has immersed himself in film study, watching film on NFL defensive linemen in an effort to make himself a better player, in particular Justin Smith of the San Francisco 49ers.
Watson said that sacrifice is a small price to pay in order to help his defense improve, and he doesn’t mind considering he is the old man of the group.
“I get old guy jokes from Coach Brooks, who swears he is 29 years old,” Watson said. “But the guys look up to me, and it’s a privilege to be in that position.”
*NOTE: Watson told us he weighed in at 300 pounds, up from the 285 he played at last season. He said he feels stronger (he recently benched 655 pounds twice) and still retains his agility.
David Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org