UW's Derek Watt's versatility stands out
MADISON—Derek Watt's college football resume is growing:
From linebacker to fullback and now to tight end, all in the span of three-plus years.
Why is Wisconsin's staff determined to play Watt at fullback and tight end in 2014?
Because the redshirt junior from Pewaukee High School is a playmaker who needs to be on the field more often.
“When you play fullback in an offense like ours you get the ball maybe once a game and you also don't play that much,” tight ends coach Jeff Genyk said Friday during the team's annual media day. “You play maybe 15 to 20 snaps a game max.
“So by expanding his role we can get him 40 snaps, maybe 50 a game.”
To review Watt's travels at UW:
Watt came to UW from Pewaukee a decorated two-way player. He was a versatile running back who rushed for 2,685 yards and 44 touchdowns and added 625 receiving yards and five touchdowns for the Pirates. He also was an outstanding linebacker who was a second-team All-American pick as a senior by USA Today.
Watt showed promise at linebacker on the scout team during his redshirt season (2011) but at the outset of preseason camp in 2012 was moved to fullback because of a vacancy at that spot.
He played in a combined 26 games in 2012 and '13, with 10 starts, and excelled as a blocker and receiver. He has been underutilized as a runner and receiver, however.
“He is a rare talent,” UW coach Gary Andersen said. “He is a very smart fullback. He's not just ramming it in there.
“He is physical when he needs to be but he also plays very smart. He can leverage people the correct way and he kind of sets blocks up.”
Hoping to get Watt more touches as a receiver and still utilize his blocking ability, the staff gave him work at H-back in the spring.
“He is an athletic enough fullback to be able to play a moving tight end and be very involved in the offensive scheme,” Andersen said. “He has proven he can catch the ball very well.”
According to Genyk, Watt catches the ball as cleanly as any of UW's full-time tight ends. Senior Sam Arneson and redshirt junior Austin Traylor are set as UW's top two tight ends, with Traylor on the line and Arneson at H-back.
But what surprised Genyk was Watt's ability to run clean routes.
“Coming out of spring we really felt that he could do a lot of things off the line of scrimmage,” Genyk said. “He also performed at a higher level as a route-runner than I thought. It was better than it should have been. He was hard to cover, which was really a pleasant surprise.
“You get him matched up with a linebacker and even some safeties and he is going to break away and get some separation.”
Watt both last spring and again this summer spent more time meeting with the tight ends than the running backs.
First, he knows his fullback responsibilities intimately.
“I've played fullback for two years,” he said.
Second, adding tight end to his resume will increase his workload significantly.
“He's got the ability to do a lot of the things we ask him to do at fullback almost instinctively,” Genyk said. “By moving him to the tight end position the volume of his responsibilities may triple—blocking, pass protection and route running.”
The UW coaches believe Watt's versatility will put additional pressure on defensive coordinators, who may not be certain where Watt will line up from play to play.
“Is he a fullback?” Genyk asked. “Is he a tight end? That means you have to expand your defensive package.”
UW's plan is to expand Watt's offensive package.
“It will be interesting to see how things shake out and how often I am on the field,” Watt said.