MADISON - Derek Watt spent all last summer preparing to be a multi-tooled player in Wisconsin’s offense, continuing to master the art of fullback while becoming more involved in the scheme at tight end.
But it was Watt’s other role for the Badgers that derailed a good portion of those plans.
Embracing the importance of special teams, Watt broke his right foot on the opening second-half kickoff in last season’s opener against LSU. Instead of catching passes in the flat, Watt spent a month on crutches and relied instead on electric muscle stimulation, vitamin D pills and mobility drills in the pool.
“I feel great now,” said Watt. “All those things are in the past.”
Well, not quite everything that happened to Watt last year has been put behind him. After keeping him primarily at fullback once he returned to the lineup, Watt is again emerging as a two position player for Wisconsin in head coach Paul Chryst’s offense.
Watt spent the majority of the summer working at both fullback and tight end, especially running out tight end routes to boost his knowledge of the job requirements. He spent the first few days of camp working as the main fullback but slowly expanded to more roles within the passing offense.
He also felt in top shape with the foot injury that cost him five games thanks to new strength and conditioning coach Ross Kolodziej, a former Wisconsin defensive lineman.
“I just worked on my hands all around,” said Watt. “I’m going to need them either way, whether I run routes in the backfield or from a tight end position. I worked on some of the technique blocking wise by going against bags and overall just get stronger and faster. I felt good this summer.”
Now a fifth-year senior, Watt has been a part of three different offensive schemes since arriving at Wisconsin but only says the biggest difference is the terminology that comes along with it. Unlike many coaching transitions across the country, Wisconsin hasn’t reinvented the wheel and strayed away from its power running game.
Combine that with the things he picked up watching from the sidelines or the coaching box last year, Watt calls his current status “comfortable.”
“I tried to be a coach as a player by giving the younger guys pointers with what I see and those things helped me,” said Watt. “It’s all about picking up little tips here and there and doing the best I can. You learn the offense better doing that. You learn more when you teach something.”
Getting a chance to work primarily with Watt in camp, first year tight end coach Mickey Turner, a former Wisconsin tight end himself, got his first extended look at the 6-2, 236-pound Watt and recognized the value he brings to the system.
“He’s a versatile guy,” said Turner. “He’s athletic, and he understands our playbook really well. If we can mix some things up and maybe have him on the field not at fullback, it makes us more unpredictable as an offense. That’s what you want.”
The amount of reps Watt will get at tight end will depend on if his backups are capable of handling the workload. Redshirt sophomore Austin Ramesh filled in when Watt was injured last season and played in seven games. UW also has fifth-year senior Derek Straus, who contributed later in the season after missing the first five games because of a shoulder injury suffered in fall camp.
“They are coming along nicely,” said Watt. “We’re all working together to help each other and get each other better. We’re all pretty close. We’re pretty good friends off the field, too, so it’s been good.
“The more guys you have that can contribute at different positions and allows you to move guys around, it throws in more wrinkles. Getting as much depth out of any position is crucial, and I think we have good depth at fullback.”