By TOM LEA
MADISON – Approximately two months ago freshman Derek Watt was simply trying to find his way amongst a crowded group of linebackers.
At that time it didn’t seem as though the young standout was in line for playing time at a position that already had three slated starters in Chris Borland, Mike Taylor and Ethan Armstrong.
So head coach Bret Bielema and the rest of his coaching staff thought it necessary to move the linebacker to the offensive side of the ball, particularly to fullback because some of the same principles he had learned stood true.
The results have been somewhat astounding now that Watt has played half a season at the position he had previously never manned.
He’s caught five balls for 56 yards, most notably his 26-yard reception against Illinois that helped jumpstart an offense that was struggling for the better part of three quarters against the lowly Illini.
But his numbers aren’t necessarily the lone indicator of his progress at the position, something offensive coordinator Matt Canada pointed out just one day after UW’s 31-14 win last weekend.
“When you meet him he’s a football player,” Canada said. “They way he’s come on I would say he exceeded expectations a little bit. He’s got a knack. He’s a football player.
“I think that’s the best thing you can say about him.”
But that doesn’t come close to examining Watt as an all-around fullback, even though he still has plenty of room to improve considering he’s only handled responsibility at the position for about two months and six games.
Whenever people examine Watt’s productivity the natural starting point would be his stats, but according to Canada his ability to block — the plays that don’t make the box score — is what makes his progression so impressive.
“He’s found a way,” Canada said. “He found a role, makes plays, catches and blocks. He does some nifty blocking. That’s a tough spot, too. I wasn’t around, but Bradie Ewing last year had a knack for finding a way to get to his guy, getting through all that to get to that safety or linebacker. That comes with time.
“But Watt is working at it and getting better. He’s getting better every day.”
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