Draft Exclusive: Fire and Ice

If the Packers decide to go in another direction at left guard, this rising prospect with a great story (and Aaron Rodgers tie) appears to be almost a perfect fit.

INDIANAPOLIS – In case of a guard emergency, the Green Bay Packers could always break glass and select Danny Watkins.

Watkins, a highly regarded lineman from Baylor, offers the most interesting story of any prospect here at the Scouting Combine. It's a story the Packers no doubt heard while meeting with Watkins, who would be an obvious possibility if they decide to go in another direction at left guard.

Watkins served as a part-time firefighter in his hometown of Kelowna, British Columbia, for four years after graduating from high school. He then enrolled in the fire sciences program at Butte College – the junior college Aaron Rodgers attended. It was there that Watkins met Butte's football coach, Jeff Jordan. Watkins never played football in high school – never really watched it, for that matter -- instead playing rugby and the national passion, hockey.

"I always grew up playing competitive sports and there wasn't a hockey rink within 600 miles of Butte, so I figured I'd give it a try," the engaging Watkins said.

Watkins played for Butte for two seasons before landing at Baylor, where he successfully replaced Jason Smith, the All-American left tackle who went No. 2 overall to the Rams in the 2009 draft. Watkins is 26 but doesn't think his age will be held against him. He's probably right. After a strong performance at guard at the Senior Bowl, he's worked himself into a Day 2 prospect – at worst.

"Well, I don't have arthritis so …" Watkins said with a laugh, adding that he was one of the first players finished with his physical. "I'm a little more mature than the other guys. I haven't heard one negative thing about being 26."

Watkins wouldn't go so far as to say the bravery it takes to enter a burning house translates to the football field, but both professions take mental and physical toughness. A firefighter at age 17, he credited his older colleagues for taking him under their wing. He said he heard from some of them about six hours before talking to reporters.

"I miss the guys but I get the same satisfaction from working with those guys that I do with football," he said. "It's kind of a give-and-take. You're with the same guys day in and day out, through the good and the bad. It kind of makes up for it."

If fighting fires doesn't translate to playing football, his days of playing hockey certainly apply to playing on the offensive line.

"A lot of knee bend, just the way you put your feet in the run game is similar to skating," he said. "Obviously, moving backward in hockey – I was a defenseman so that was something that came very natural to me. And in pass protection, you've got to move backward and bend your knees and sink your hops. A lot has been able to carry over to my benefit."

Still relatively new to the game, Watkins said he has plenty of upside, despite his age. While all of his collegiate experience came at tackle, he relished his first taste of the close-quarters battles at guard from the Senior Bowl. With the exception of Scott Wells, all of the Packers' starting linemen – and 11 of the 13 total linemen on their roster -- played tackle in college, so they prefer that skill-set.

"The X-factor of waiting for the end to come to you and close that distance is gone," he said of the difference between tackle and guard. "He's right there and you can get your hands on him and hold him up and move him whatever way you want to right away."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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