The Man in the Middle

<p><strong>Gabe Watson</strong> has really turned heads in fall ball thus far. Now a veteran, the interior defender looks ready to take the next step toward being the player many observers thought he would be. He is looking to control things up front in 04.</p>

Two years ago Gabe Watson entered his freshman season with huge expectations. His outstanding athletic ability wowed observers at the Nike camp where at 330+ pounds, he ran a 5.1 forty (after slipping out of the gates), a 4.87 shuttle, and bench pressed 185 pounds over 30 times. Tales of his ability to do the splits and dunk a basketball only intensified the excitement over his athletic talents. The debate raged on about what side of the ball he was best suited for (his high school team ran behind him 85% of the time), but his desire to play defense won out. He requested to not be redshirted during his recruitment and had plans to make an impact in his initial season. Things, however, took a detour very early in the process.

Watson’s development was curtailed a bit when he reported to camp 30-40 pounds overweight. He spent much of the fall getting into the shape expected of him, and his playing time was limited as a result. Discouraged and disappointed, Watson made no secret of the fact that he didn’t like sitting. To ensure that the same thing didn’t happen the next season, he was much more dedicated to offseason preparation and entered the spring at a trim (relatively speaking) 330 pounds.

Watson’s enhanced attention to strength and conditioning resulted in more playing time last year. Now that the seniors that were in front have departed, his playing time and responsibilities will increase even more. “I have more opportunity now,” Watson said. “Michigan is about waiting your turn, letting the seniors lead, and stuff like that. They had their chance and moved out. Now it is time for me to step up.”

To prepare for his increased role Watson realized at some point during the offseason that he had to put in even more work than he had before. “I think that you need to work on everything,” Watson said of offseason prep work. “If you don’t work on it long enough, it can get away from you. I worked hard, lifted hard, and ran hard. You notice a lot of guys getting stronger during the summer because Mike Gittleson (Director of Weight Training and Conditioning) and Kevin Tolbert (Strength and Conditioning Coach) have you working so hard in the weight room that you have no choice.”

Coach Carr has obviously taken notice of Watson’s improvement. His performance thus far invoked significant praise from Michigan’s veteran leader. “I think Gabe Watson has a chance to be a great football player…a dominating football player if he continues to play with the same type of intensity he has played with this fall,” Carr said.

With the defensive transition to playing more 3-4, Watson’s importance increased because he has the arduous task of often times occupying two blockers and keeping them off of the linebackers. His teammates are giving rave reviews about his stoutness in the middle. The nose tackle in the 3-4 is often under-appreciated by fans because there really is no stat for what he does for the unit. Many times they have some of the lower tackle totals on the team. Observers can only see what he does for the defense if they’re looking for it. The other players (especially the linebackers), however, know exactly what he means. When asked what the advantage of playing the 3-4 was, Scott McClintok gave props to the man that makes his job easier. “From what I’ve seen so far it’s Gabe Watson in the middle,” McClintok said regarding the primary benefit of playing in the new scheme. “He is such a big strong man that he can take on two guys and make it a little bit easier on the backers and allow us to get up on the play quicker.”

While Watson has done a great job of freeing up his teammates in practice so far, he certainly wouldn’t mind significantly improving upon his career tackle (15 tota1 and 1 for loss) and sack totals this year. “I just want a high number,” Watson said. “Sometimes there are things that I do to free up other guys. If were up to me, I would want a high number, but it depends on what defense is called.”

Whether it shows up on his individual stat sheet or not, all signs point toward Watson having a huge impact this season.

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