By TOM LEA
MADISON – Redshirt freshman Derek Watt spent his first season on Wisconsin’s campus prepping to become the next in line at a pretty stacked linebacker unit.
However, during the early stages of his second season in cardinal and white, his head coach Bret Bielema seemed to see a better fit for Watt, who had just moved to the middle linebacker position, on the offensive side of the ball.
Following Tuesday’s lone practice, we caught up with Watt. The following is a question in answer regarding to his new positional change and how it came to be.
So you’re at fullback now. How did this come about and what was your first reaction?
Watt: Actually I think it was (Sunday). I was sitting at lunch and I got a call and it was coach Bielema. He just asked me what I was doing. I said I was eating lunch. He told me to upstairs as soon as I could. So I went up there and we kind of sat down for a few minutes and kind of went through some possibilities. Fullback and tight end came up and I decided to take the fullback route.
You didn’t want to go tight end? J.J. went tight end.
Watt: He did. We’ve got some good tight ends right now. I just felt like fullback was a good fit for me. I was a running back in high school and I felt like I could pick up some blocking pretty good. So far I’m just trying to embrace everything I can. I’ve got most of the playbook down. Coach Thomas Hammock told me he would throw me in there and he did and he said if I were to mess up to do it at 100 miles per hour and that’s what I’m trying to do right now.”
When coach Bielema was talking to the media about it the other day at media day, he said when you’re on the offensive side of the ball you know what you’re doing. On defense there is so much you have to read and what not. Is that something you think can benefit you, just knowing exactly where you need to be?
Watt: The thing right now is I go up to the ball and I know who I’m blocking. It definitely is a little bit easier on the mind as the play is happening on offense because you know your responsibility and all that entails. I just try to get up there and I know who I’m blocking. The first day coach had to help me out and kind of tell me who I was blocking, but right now I’m doing pretty good and just trying to find out and do my best.
A couple months from now when you’re really settled in to the position, do you feel like you’re really going to enjoy being on the offensive side of the ball? I know you’re a high school running back, but everyone is going to point to your brother and how good he was on the defensive side of the ball and maybe think the same thing about you. Will you really buy into this?
Watt: I’m already bought in. I’m already 100 percent all in. I got the playbook on Sunday and I already feel like I’ve got the offense down pretty good. Like coach said, if I don’t know what I’m doing exactly I’m going to find somebody and hit them. Try to get the slightest crease for these guys because these guys behind me don’t need much. They can find holes. I’m just trying to get a body on someone and let them do their thing back there.
It’s a pretty unique position in today’s world of college football, isn’t it? In college there are a lot of spread teams that don’t really utilize the position. Wisconsin is obviously going to always utilize it as long as coach Bielema is here. It’s a pretty unique position and I’m sure it’s one that’s probably a lot of fun to play.
Watt: We’re a power football team and we even use our tight ends in the backfield sometimes. But when we can we’re going to use a fullback and we’re going to be a hard nosed team and try to get in there. Most of the teams are spreading out. We have our own version of the spread once in a while, but at the end of the day we’re a hard-nosed football team and we’re ready to pound the ball.
When you look at the course of Bradie Ewing’s career over the course of the four years he was here, it seemed like as his career went along he started catching the ball a lot and he became a big time pass-catching threat. How are your hands?
Watt: I actually had my first ball thrown to me today (Tuesday). I caught it so I was pretty happy about that and hopefully some there will be some more to come. Otherwise I’ll just be blocking for the guys behind me. I like to think I have some decent hands, so feel free to throw me the ball.
Did you feel log-jammed at linebacker at all?
Watt: No, not really. I mean I was getting reps with the two’s, but it’s just hard to learn the whole defense because I just switched over to mike and it’s just a different perspective when you’re not getting as many reps and when you’re switching off of somebody.
So who is it between? You and Sherard Cadogan now?
Watt: Right now Sherard is the No. 1 and I’ve got thrown in there and I’m working out and trying to push and compete with him. Both of us are getting better. We’re both doing pretty well right now.
You said there are a lot of tight ends? Did that play into your decision to go to fullback just knowing Sherard is there and that he hasn’t really proven himself on the field necessarily? That’s not a slight on him at all, I’m just saying it’s you and him instead of you and six other guys at tight end there?
Watt: Not exactly. I just felt like fullback would be a better fit for me. I don’t exactly have the height and the weight right now for a tight end. I don’t plan on growing in height anymore than I am right now. I’ve just got to start putting on a little more weight and I feel like fullback is a good fit for me so far.
How did summer conditioning go for you? And did you approach it as a linebacker? Do you approach it the same way no matter your position or do you approach with your position in mind?
Watt: My summer would have been different because of what I had to do in the film room. I was watching linebacker film all summer not even having the thought of fullback in my mind. So I was doing my workouts with the linebackers, although we do workout with the linebackers and running backs. We mix it together, but everything you do is by your position. I was watching linebacker film all summer and all so far in camp. But summer conditioning was good. Coach Ben Herbert pushed us pretty good and it was real warm, but he didn’t let us pay attention to that at all. It was 142 degrees on the turf one day, I think they said. So your feet are burning, but he doesn’t care. You’ve got to push through that and I think it made us better.
How does being a linebacker translate to being a fullback? Are there a lot of similarities?
Watt: Honestly, there is. Right now I’m blocking a lot of the guys that I was playing with. At linebacker you’re basically blocking the blocker coming at you for a quick second and then get off them. So I kind of have a sense of what they’re doing and I’m basically the linebacker of the offense. That’s how I’m looking at it right now. So I’ve got to get a body on someone and get my fit and get my head in the right spot.
Any differences from your first practice at fullback to your third? I know it’s just been a span of a few hours…
Watt: Basically just the confidence and knowing what I’m doing and having a better idea of the playbook. I mean the first day I had probably six or seven reps of team. Coach had to help me out a little bit. I had a general idea and now I feel like I can go out there and listen to the huddle call and get out there and do my job.
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