When the Oakland Raiders ended their season on Sunday afternoon, questions circled. With the draft four months away, the roster boasts few certainties. Yet, with the draft process, a feeling of optimism arises. Players like Maryland linebacker Tre Watson could provide the key to a possible turnaround for the Raiders.
In 2018, you accumulated double-digit tackles in six games. How did you improve technique and level during your career? What aspect of tackling do you want to still work on?
The biggest progression in
tackling for me was getting rid of bad tackling tendencies that the higher-level
players have in high school because of the talent difference. In college, each
year I worked on closing on ball carriers so that I had much more firm and
secure tackles. I had to work to get rid of the arm tackling as well as leaving
my feet early that a lot of guys deal with which leads to missed tackles.
The biggest focus of my tackling for the near future will be to continue to work on driving through tackles and not just relying on the power of my initial impact to bring guys down. In the NFL, ball carriers will be far superior to college and the more I can bring my legs, the better tackler I will be at this level.
Your film suggests an innate ability and feel for stopping the run. What part of that is natural and who taught you the ability to aggressively attack the line of scrimmage?
Playing the run has always been something I took great pride in mainly because my nature is to be extremely physical and aggressive. The ability to read plays and be in the right position comes with a combination of natural instincts developed over time and an understanding of your defensive scheme (i.e. gap responsibilities and where your help is) as well as spending time in film study to know opponent tendencies for how they like to attack. A large part of that comes from learning football the right way as a kid from my dad so that at each level I was not surprised by offensive and defensive schemes or terminology.
Some linebackers struggle with disengaging linemen blocks. What gives you the advantage in this area?
To me, getting lineman off you as a LB separates a truly good Lb from someone who is just a good athlete that can finish plays when they are free all the time. Therefore, in college, I had to learn to not only attack linemen off the ball instead of letting them come to me, but I also learned the importance of using my hands. That alone is what I feel has enabled me to play well especially in my last year and is noticeable on tape.
In the modern NFL, three down linebackers are a valued commodity. During your career, you snared six interceptions. At the next level, what coverage skills will you bring to the table?
Being a LB that can stay on the field in any situation has been a huge priority of mine and coverage skills are a big part of that. My understanding of zone concepts and what routes to anticipate versus what zones are what gave me the opportunity to get many of the interceptions I got this year. When you are not just floating in space in zone defense, it gives you the ability to manipulate the QB and get in passing lanes when they do not expect it. So I feel that’s my biggest asset in coverage as well as that I am confident playing man to man vs. TE’s as well as RB’s on important throwing downs where teams look for mismatches.
The biggest improvement for me will be to continue to work on my athleticism so that I can stick with the incredible athletes at RB in the NFL in man coverage. Teams love to isolate those matchups so the more I can work on my speed and quickness, the more I will be able to win those crucial situations.
Playing LB remains a position of leadership. As a rookie, how will you prepare for the eventual role of leader?
The biggest thing that allows guys to lead a group of men in my opinion is to be able to earn their respect and show them that they can be confident in what you bring to the table. When you have another man’s respect and he believes that you will do what is best for the team, he is much more likely to follow suit with you. Therefore, my goal will be to come in and earn the respect of my teammates, both the young players and the veterans, to show that I am capable of being a high-level contributor for the team that they can trust.
Teams like the Raiders lack pass rush, but they cherish A gap blitzes, what is the biggest adjustment needed to get to the quarterback between the tackles?
So, there is a big difference between what it takes to be a blitzer vs. a pass rusher. The skillset of a pass rusher requires great hand usage, bend, a variety of moves, and power because you line up with the offense knowing you are coming.
How do you see yourself?
Since I think of myself as much more of a blitzer, the traits needed to be successful are much different. You need to be instinctual so that you have great timing on your blitzes. In my opinion, the offense should not know whether you are coming or not if you are a good blitzer. Timing is everything honestly. Also, on the inside there is much less space which means you have to be tighter with your moves and also be ready to push backs back into the quarterback’s lap.
Your father and uncle played in the NFL, how did growing up around the game influence you early?
Growing up with my dad in the house ensured that I learned how to play the game the right way from the very beginning. I learned technique, football terminology, and how to play safely from day one which very few kids get and that kept me ahead of the game at each phase of my football development.
While most don’t know that you have a bachelor’s in Community Health and you are working toward a Master’s in Public Health, what intrigues you most about this field and what will you do with the degree after your football days are over?
While my degree was in community health, my real concentration was pre-dental which I paired with community health because my ultimate academic goal is to go to dental school and become an orthodontist. Dentistry was a field I had been studying since high school because it intrigued me and I had the chance to intern at a dentist’s office in college and really see that it is a field I can see myself in after football.
As mentioned, teams like the Raiders need playmakers at linebacker, what separates you from other LB in the draft?
What separates me from other guys in the draft this year is that on the football field, I possess all the things necessary to be a successful linebacker in the NFL. I’ve shown the tools in my film, particularly this year to make plays at all levels of the defense whether that’s in run support, blitzing, forcing turnovers, and then in zone and man coverage.
Whoever ends up picking me is going to get a guy that is strictly about business. My one and only goal is to help a team be successful both on defense and on special teams. No matter how limited or expansive the role, I can guarantee that I will find a way to influence the result of games because that is what I am on the field to do.
What can the fans expect from you?The fans can expect to see a guy who just has fun playing the game of football and who is looking to make the play that changes the game every snap I am on the field. They will see physicality and passion that is unrivaled and we will have a heck of time together winning some football games.
In reality, the 6’2″, 235-pound Watson fits in perfectly for the Raiders. With his ability in coverage, they could finally solve their middle linebacker issue.