As one of the sleeper ILBs in the draft, Maryland’s Tre Watson is one of the beacons of hope for a team trying to find a starting ILB on Day 3.
With an opportunity at the Shrine Game, Watson displayed eye-popping traits that allowed scouts to see he had starting potential.
Watson spoke exclusively with Behind the Steel Curtain to give us an in-depth view of his game and the player a team would be getting if they draft him.
Nick: Why did you pick Maryland when you were transferring prior to the 2018 season?
Tre: When I started the process over again looking for a new school I had connections at Maryland. I knew some coaches there and my former assistant coach Al Stevenson put in a word for me and Maryland contacted me immediately. They were up front about the role I would play for their team and that they had a need. Once things started going I felt like it was something I could be comfortable with. I saw that the staff had my best interests at heart and that I could further my football career further than I could before at Maryland.
Nick: You recently competed in and shined at the Shrine Game, what did you think of the experience?
Tre: I really enjoyed it. There is a lot of history at the Shrine Game and more than just a game and practices, and from that standpoint alone it was an honor to be invited. It is right underneath the Senior Bowl in terms of talent so it is kind of a slight to be invited to the Senior Bowl, but you got to move forward, and I thought I showed teams as much as I could during the regular season.
Nick: What did you want lasting impression you left on NFL staff to be?
Tre: Between when they talked to me and what I showed them on the field, I showed them what they need from a LB in the NFL. Between my tape, the practices, and my interviews I feel like I have an opportunity to be successful both on and off the field. Mentally knowing the game at a level where you can be a conductor on the defense, you know, like getting them lined up, making sure assignments are taken care of, I showed them what I think my role on defense will be and I conveyed that in my interviews. Being able to communicate is huge. I showed what I could be throughout the season, but the Shrine Game was an opportunity where I got to show teams what I could do in an NFL scheme.
Nick: One of the things on film that impressed me was that you never bit on false keys. How do you process so well?
Tre: That comes with confidence in the scheme and knowing your role and what you need to do on every play. You need to know your lineman, your read, what you need to be looking at. For example, there are motions and a ton of other things pre and post-snap. But if you are focused on what you need to look at then all that is white noise. Every time I am on the field I want to know my assignment better than anyone else. I don’t even want to have to think so I can play as fast as I can on the field.
Nick: On tape, I noticed you love to lay the boom if you have the chance to. Is that a trait that you think sets a tone for your overall game?
Tre: Absolutely, when people talk about the game today, and how the game is changing from that brute physicality, and I am not going to call myself a brute, but I am someone who seeks out and enjoys contact. Whether that is finishing on a ball carrier or a blocker, you name it, I am not going to turn down any contact at any turn. I feel that is essential to the game of football and what differentiates it from every other sport on the Earth. This year I thought I could do it much more, I played much more freely. And even when I am physical with blockers, I still prioritize shedding those blocks, but physicality with always be part of my game.
Nick: I love that you pride yourself on popping the pads. Outside of both of those things, one aspect your coaches and teammates raved about you was how great of a leader you were. What will an NFL team get in Tre Watson the leader?
Tre: The biggest thing is that I have gone from one place to another so I have met so many different people and coaches. Earning others’ respect, that is how I can be a leader. You know, in the NFL these are grown men pushing upper 30s-40s at times and they will not just listen to you and suddenly ride and die for you. That is the biggest thing. I am going to come in and my teammates’ and coaches’ respect until they respect me or want to emulate what Tre does or what Tre is no matter how big or how small. I have always been open and transparent with others so that they know I am relatable and that I am not higher or lower than anyone else on the team. It is about getting along with everyone and that is what is going to come off positively.
Nick: That is an awesome response. You were snubbed from both the Senior Bowl and the Combine. How are you working to prove those snubs wrong?
Tre: At the end of the day, there is nothing that I could have done differently between my senior year and now to become anything more to earn those opportunities. If for any reason I was not deemed worthy for those opportunities, then going back doesn’t do much. I did everything I could this season and at the Shrine Game and I am not any different of a person. It is what it is, I am not going to work any harder because of that. I have been working hard regardless of what happens, whether it is not having offers out of high school, going from Illinois to Maryland and not being respected, and even here, playing at an All-American level and not being told you are one of the 35+ best LBs in the nation? I take it for what it is and people make decisions that are outside of my ability to change, but regardless I have 32 teams to impress and the Pro Day is a great opportunity. I am going to keep working hard for that opportunity and hopefully have more opportunities after that.
Nick: As you keep working hard, what do you think is the area of your game you can improve upon the most?
Tre: I am someone who is always perceptive of things around me and also myself so I can improve myself. I know I’m not gonna be the uber-athletic guy who will jump a 40 inch vert or a 4.4 40, and I know that’s what people want to see in this stage of the process. They won’t be worried about how I tackle or how I shed blocks, because that was in the season. In OTAs, minicamp, and heading into the season, I am just working to get as athletic as I can. Whether that is shaving a few tenths of the 40 or working on my explosiveness, I am going to do anything I can do to minimize that weakness.
Nick: You alluded to the fact that you might not be the fastest LB out there, but you are exceptional in coverage having logged 5 INTs last season. How do you overcome some natural athletic limitations to become such a good coverage LB?
Tre: You can run a 4.4, but if you are out there on the football field and you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know where you’re supposed to be, or you don’t know where the football is, you’re basically useless. You can run a 5.0 40, but if you can read your keys quickly, know where the ball is, and close on the ball carrier, that is what allows you to be successful. You have to understand route concepts, where your role is in zone, and where your help. You could force a high throw or whether you might be re-routing. At the end of the season we were running a lot of match coverages and I felt like I was able to exploit weaknesses in coverage where QBs thought they could make a play. LBs can tend to drift and be standing ducks, and I work to be disruptive underneath and forth an overthrow or being there to eliminate lanes. That is the difference between a backup and a 3-down starter.
Nick: What player do you model your game after?
Tre: I don’t model myself after anyone, but I see a lot of myself in Patrick Willis. You know, the instinctive play, and the willingness to initiate contact. He was just ferocious with the way he used to hit RBs. I don’t even know if he would have survived with the way he used to hit them. Guys like him, and Ray Lewis, and he was the same way, violent and willing to hit someone. It didn’t matter the size of the guy. And not even a LB, but I want to be a guy that makes plays like Tyrann Mathieu, especially when he was in college, he just found a way. Whether it was punching the ball out, getting a pick, making a big hit, or a game changing play, that is where great players are made. Making a crucial stop of third down or forcing a huge turnover, those are just reasons for a team to keep you on the field.
Nick: I love that you’re a mold of a modern LB and a throwback LB. Why should a team want Tre Watson on their team?
Tre: Above all else, wherever I end up going, a team is going to get a guy who goes nonstop. My passion for the game is unrivaled and my competitiveness is as well. It doesn’t end with football, I carry that into every facet of my life. Like I said, whether it is school, football, rec sports at the gym, that is just how I am. The feelings I have for this game are strong and it allows me to provide for my family potentially for the rest of my life. They are going to get someone who will do anything to be successful and help the team win whether it is in a minimal role and being relied to make a big play, I am willing to do anything.