Healthier, faster Watts hoping to stick

Brandon Watts is taking measures to stay healthy and hopes that and his increased understanding are enough to keep him employed.

Linebacker could very well be the deepest position on the Minnesota Vikings roster this season with a few talented players likely to be cut by the time the regular season rolls around.

Anthony Barr, Chad Greenway, Gerald Hodges and Eric Kendricks all seem to be a lock to make the roster at this point in time, and Audie Cole seems like a very likely candidate as well. Assuming the Vikings only keep six or seven linebackers on their 53-man roster, that means that players such as Edmond Robinson, Brian Peters, Josh Kaddu, Michael Mauti and Brandon Watts are all competing for one or two spots.

Each one of these “bubble” players has been working with some combination of the second and third strings throughout the offseason and it is hard to say if any one of them has really stood out from the others. They have all played well at times, but each of them also has plenty of things to improve on.

Last year, Brandon Watts was brought in as a seventh-round draft pick out of Georgia Tech. He played in two games during his rookie season and recorded one tackle. It’s possible he would have recorded more snaps a year ago but he had a nagging hamstring injury for a majority of the year that caused him to sit out most of the games.

“Yeah I’m fine, I’m fine,” Watts said when asked if he is completely recovered. “I haven’t missed any practice time since we’ve been back so I’ve been fine. Just got to continue to keep pushing and getting better everyday.”

Head coach Mike Zimmer was clearly frustrated with Watts towards the end of last year after he missed time because of the injury, came back and played in a game and got injured again. But Watts said his coach hasn’t said anything about it yet and is hoping he doesn’t give him a reason to in the future.

The second-year linebacker said he spends a lot of time stretching his hamstring, heating it, making sure he stays hydrated and anything else he can do to help prevent the injury coming back. So far, it has been working, as there have been no signs of any lingering issues.

Despite having to miss a lot of the games last season, he still feels as though his time on the roster helped him develop as a player. He had the opportunity to learn the defense and feel comfortable performing what was asked of him. Now he feels like he can simply go out there and play.

“It’s a lot smoother, second year,” he said. “You go into things a lot more familiar with everything so it’s a lot easier than last year.

“… I’m out there playing full speed now and not thinking as much. As opposed to last year, I was young and out there thinking, still trying to learn the scheme. I have a year under my belt now so I know everything, so I’m just out there playing fast and continuing to keep learning.”

Having that comfort and familiarity with the defense is important for him as the offseason progresses because it could give him a leg up on his competition. Some of the players do not have as good an understanding as Watts does of Zimmer’s defense so Watts should feel more comfortable in it and be able to play faster, not being slowed down by processing information.

On the other hand, though, some of the players have just as much experience in the system as Watts does. That means he has to show well in the preseason and hope the coaching staff decides to keep him. Yet he isn’t too worried about the cuts that are coming.

“Not too worried about that right now,” he said. “Just going out there and doing my job, just playing as hard as I can and then the coaches will make that decision.”

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