For six seasons, Ben Watson played a key role on a Patriots team that always was in the Super Bowl chase, winning it all in 2004, his rookie season. After signing a three-year free-agent deal with the Browns last year, Watson posted a career-high 68 receptions for 763 yards, even though the team finished a disappointing 5-11.
The former Georgia Bulldog took time out from his visit to NFL Network on Tuesday to talk about his impressions of Cleveland, the Browns’ just-concluded player-led workouts in Austin, Texas, and the challenges of playing tight end in the NFL.
How was Austin?
BW: Austin was good. And hot; it was like 100-plus (degrees), and we were out there on the turf.
Did it bring back memories of Georgia?
BW: No, I don’t think it got that hot in Georgia. It might be worse in Georgia because it’s more humid. Having been up north for the past eight years, the heat was tough.
Do you think the lockout puts the Browns in a tougher position than other teams because you guys have a new coach (former Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur takes over for Eric Mangini) and you’ll have a lot more catching up to do?
BW: I think it can. Everybody’s going to have that first few weeks or month to get acclimated. I think the teams that have a new coach or offensive coordinator, it’s going to be tougher for us as far as the learning curve goes. If we had the same staff as last year, at least there would be a base there. That’s why it’s really important for us to do these player-imposed camps so we can at least hear some of the terminology and get a foundation.
Have you met coach Shurmur?
BW: Yes. You remember that one day when we weren’t locked out (in April)? I went into the facility and got to meet him.
How would you assess your first season in Cleveland?
BW: I would say I enjoyed myself, first of all. Playing in Cleveland, it’s a team with a lot of tradition and a fan base that loves football. My family and I enjoyed being there. I enjoyed playing with my teammates. Obviously we would have liked to have won more, but it was great to be involved that way in the offense. It was great to catch balls; that’s why you play tight end, to get a chance to be thrown to.
What’s it going to take to get the Browns past the Steelers and the Ravens in the AFC North?
BW: Winning. You just got to beat them. There’s no magic pill, no magic formula, other than going out there and playing better than they do. That’s what we haven’t done. You can always get more talent — every team wants to get more talent — but in the end, I don’t think that really matters. In the end, it’s about executing and believing you can win. We’ve struggled as a franchise the past decade or so, winning. It’s just going to take us getting over the hump, and then I really believe it will be like a snowball.
What’s the best thing about playing tight end in the NFL?
BW: The chances that you get to do a lot of different things. Some things are more fun than others, but you get a chance to block guys who are bigger than you, you get a chance to run routes on guys who are faster than you, you get to be a receiver, a run blocker, some guys play special teams. There’s always something in your game to work on. I think tight end is one of the hardest positions to be complete at, because you have to be good at two things that are kind of counter intuitive: running routes and having the technique to block. It’s hard to find guys who are good at both.
What’s the worst thing about playing tight end in the NFL?
BW: What I just said. You have to split your time catching, running routes, blocking, you’ve got to be able to read coverage, and you’ve got to be able to read linebackers and D-linemen. In one play, you can literally face a D-lineman, a linebacker and a safety. A tight end has to be able to do a lot: We’ve got to go to the O-line meeting and the receivers meeting.
What’s your favorite movie?
BW: “Rudy.” I used to watch “Rudy” every season; that story of an underdog and his triumph, it’s just a great story.
Favorite TV show?
BW: I’ve got a couple. “24.” “Martin” was an all-time favorite. I watch “The View.”
You watch “The View”?
BW: I have a wife; we like to watch it together, and talk about it, and yell at the TV. It makes great conversation. Everybody can make fun of me, and when guys find out I watch “The View,” they say, “Oh, your wife must make you watch it,” but I like watching it.
BW: The one I read the most would be the Bible.
What do you see yourself doing after your playing days are over?
BW: My degree is in finance from the University of Georgia, and I have a passion for that, so maybe helping NFL players manage their money after they retire, and also I’d like to do some television work.
You’re still kind of new to Cleveland, but did you feel let down when LeBron James split town, and did you root for Dallas in the NBA Finals?
BW: I was not let down. I just got to Cleveland in April of the year he left (2010). I did not grow up in Cleveland, and honestly we just had a baby in May, so I didn’t know what was going on. But I was going for Dallas in the Finals because everybody on Dallas is like 30 or older, and I just turned 30, so I feel like now I’ve got to go for the old guys. I like the way that Dallas handled themselves when they won the Western Conference Finals. It would have been easy for them to make predictions and do a lot of talking, but they received their trophy and just said, “We’re going back to the drawing board. This isn’t finished yet.” It really struck me, the character of the guys they had, and the way they went about it is the way I like to go about my business.
– David Weiner