Redshirt freshmen Spencer Pennington and Brodie Croyle are both enjoying a good spring, and looking back Watts remembers a time not too long ago when he was in a similar position. "I see myself in them 2-3 years ago," he acknowledged. "A young guy doing everything I could to get in that starting position. They're doing a great job."
Having spent his entire career up to now one year behind former starter Andrew Zow, Watts suddenly finds himself in the new role of grizzled veteran. "Me and Andrew had a great relationship," Watts said. "And me and Brodie and Spencer are building one, too. It is a little different, because you're the guy that has been through it all. They've been here for a year, but they haven't been through games.
"I get asked a lot more questions than I used to. But I love being the oldest. It's great."
Selected one of the permanent team captains for 2001, while healthy he led Alabama in passing on 94-of-172 passing for 1,325 yards. Watts threw ten touchdowns against only three interceptions. And his 564 yards rushing was third on the team behind only tailbacks Ahmaad Galloway and Santonio Beard.
But this spring Dennis Franchione and Offensive Coordinator Les Koenning have installed several new wrinkles. "I'm still learning the offense," Watts acknowledged. "It's getting to the point now where I can go up there and go through the entire blocking scheme of our offensive line and figure out which play is best. I couldn't do that this time last year or even maybe at the beginning of the season. I'm starting to see things a lot more clear. It's helping out tremendously. My decision-making process is a lot quicker. At the line of scrimmage, my recognition of things--I just need to keep on improving on that.
"Because they're putting in so much new offense, I just haven't learned it all yet. But I want to get to that point."
In the only scrimmage so far this spring, Watts was somewhat inconsistent before leading the first unit to its only touchdown versus the first-team defense. He finished that day's work 7-of-17 passing for 93 yards.
Watts started the first nine games of the 2001 season before a severely torn groin muscle sidelined him for Bama's last three games. "I feel great; I really do," he said last week. "I'm 100 percent. Without question."
Having suffered a torn ACL during his sophomore year, 2001 marked the second season in a row that Watts' season had been ended prematurely by injury. But the normally easy-going Watts bristles a bit at the suggestion that he's injury prone. "It really does bug me, because I never got hurt until I got here," he said. "I had never missed a football game until I got here at The University. I've been through a lot, but I think I just had a run of bad luck.
"Obviously I need to take better care of my body. There's a lot that you can't control, but there is some that you can control. I'm going to make it through this year."
Except for one bad day last week, Coach Franchione has praised his squad's effort so far during spring drills. Watts explained, "We've had a really good spring up to this point. I'm looking forward to coming back and getting another two good weeks in. We've put in a lot of new offense, and everyone has really soaked it up. We're still trying to perfect it in certain areas, but we're having a real good spring training."
But his enthusiasm for practice does not mean he was sad to see spring break arrive. Quite the contrary.
"I'm just going to go and let your hair down a little bit I guess," Watts said. "Just kind of relax and get away from this a little bit. We've been working for a long time. All the way back from last summer through the fall through winter onto now. We deserve a little time off. We just need to make sure we don't do anything too dumb."
When he returns, Watts will continue to work on the mechanics of his release, seeking more arm strength and quicker reaction time. "I'm definitely trying to (improve). I'm just trying to get rid of the ball quicker. I'm trying to shorten up my throwing motion. That makes all the difference in the world."
And don't believe the myth that velocity cannot be increased. Watts explained, "Oh yeah, you can increase your arm strength. You just work it out just like anything else. Work out the smaller muscles up in your arm and working on your release. It all goes together."
As spring of 2002 works its way along, Watts is enjoying a good off-season. But always in the back of his mind is the idea that this will be his last one at Alabama. "I'm mad because I've only got one year left," he acknowledged. "Oh yeah, I'm going to remember to enjoy it. Every now and then you've just got to step back and look at it. I think how I'll perceive this year a couple of years down the road. You want to take advantage of every opportunity that you're going to get.
"Sometimes when we're living in the moment we overlook those things. You try and step back and appreciate what you're going through so you can enjoy it even more."
So what will be his main goals for the remainder of spring? "I'm working on every phase of quarterbacking," Watts replied. "I want to recognize defenses even quicker than what I am now. I want to learn every assignment on the offensive side, so if they ask me a question I'll know how to respond. I want to get quicker with my release and try to build some strength in my arm.
"I feel like I have gained some strength, but I still have to do more."