He beat South Carolina on one leg back in the day at Clemson, and he beat the Raiders with one eye last Sunday, and let’s let Texans head coach Bill O’Brien tell us how lucky he is that Deshaun Watson is his quarterback:
“There were many factors when we spoke to him pre-draft,” O’Brien told Serby Says by phone. “I met him for the first time at the [NFL] Combine, and I was very impressed with everything from eye contact to his memory to his ability to talk football, and then his ability to share his story, to share what he went through early in his life with his family, his mom and things like that. You could tell that he had basically an aura about him that people would enjoy playing with him, that people would enjoy playing with him, that people were gonna really enjoy being a teammate and making plays with him.
“So that was the first one, and then we brought him here [Houston] pre-draft, and he did a great job in the interview, and a lot of our players were here to meet him and he did a great job with them.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has been proven right: pass on Deshaun Watson, you might feel the way the Trail Blazers felt passing on Michael Jordan for Sam Bowie in 1984 (unless you are the Patrick Mahomes Chiefs).
Watson will beat you with his arm, with his legs, with his heart, with his mind. But it is also every bit his courage and toughness and indomitable will and devotion and commitment to his team and teammates that define him as much as anything.
Example No. 1:
“I really just think back to that game against South Carolina, where he literally was playing on one leg in 2014 with a torn ACL,” Eric Mac Lain, a former Clemson guard/captain, and a college football analyst for ACCN and ESPN, said by phone, “and [he] defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks in a specialized knee brace and essentially one leg. That just inspires you to want to play so much harder, when you’ve got a guy who’s literally injured and should be out.”
Example No. 2:
The 12-hour ride on a tour bus to and from Jacksonville that Watson was forced to take 13 months ago — with strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson, assistant trainer Uriah Myrie and several other team officials — so he could quarterback his team.
“In the Dallas game he had scrambled and tried to score a touchdown at the end of the half, and Jaylon Smith laid a good lick on him, and he had a rib issue and he had a lung issue,” O’Brien recalled. “The doctors cleared him to play, but didn’t clear him to fly. He made the decision that, ‘Well, I’m gonna play? So how do I play?’ We said, ‘Well, somebody can drive you.’ It wasn’t like a school bus now, a trainer and strength coach went with him, and he drove to Jacksonville and played the game.”
Example No. 3:
Watson will be wearing a visor Sunday in London against the Jaguars after getting inadvertently kicked in his left eye scrambling to throw the game-winning 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Darren Fells with 6:26 remaining last Sunday.
“I kind of threw it blind,” Watson said afterward. “1 eye bandit!” he tweeted early in the week. Hell, Tom Brady never did that.
“I’ve been very fortunate to coach a lot of great players … but I’ve never seen a play like that,” O’Brien said. “He spun out of a sack by one guy, then he was almost sacked by another guy, and he spun out of that one, and accidentally the foot hit him in the eye. And anybody that’s ever been poked in the eye understands how much that hurts. Figure getting kicked in the eye, and then he throws a touchdown pass. I think that says everything about him.”
Mac Lain recalled the first time he witnessed Watson’s magic. It came in Clemson’s spring game.
“We had called a naked bootleg where he’s rolling to the right,” Mac Lain said. “Most guys coming from high school, if they feel a little bit of pressure, or if they have a guy kind of coming down their neck, they just try to outrun you. Deshaun is rolling, and Shaq Lawson is just screaming upfield for the sack, and Deshaun gives a burst kind of run and then stops on a dime. Shaq Lawson goes flying by him, and Deshaun stopped on his back foot and throws the ball across the field, threw a skinny post for a touchdown against our No. 1 defense. And that was the first play of his freshman year, and I’m just like, ‘Oh my gosh, this kid is gonna be absolutely amazing.’ ”
TaQuon Marshall played against Watson’s Gainesville High School in Georgia as a quarterback and defensive back at Harris County High School.
“It almost seemed like he didn’t have to look to the sideline for his coaches to signal in plays, it was like he was in total command of the offense,” Marshall said by phone. “It was almost like he was a coach on the field.”
Watson’s “Let’s be legendary, let’s go be great” exhortation at the start of Clemson’s 68-yard, 2016 national championship-drive that was capped by his two-yard TD pass to Hunter Renfrow to beat Alabama will forever be legendary. It was a fairy tale college ending for a gentlemanly man of faith who is forever grateful to former Buccaneers running back Warrick Dunn for donating a home to his family in 2006 through the Homes for the Holidays charity and Habitat for Humanity.
“He’s got excellent poise,” O’Brien said. “He really doesn’t have any fear. He doesn’t fear any situation if you know anything about how he grew up, and what he went through early in his life — he has no fear. He loves playing football, he’s a great teammate, he wants to do whatever it takes for the team to win. He’s the same guy every snap, he’s never too high, he’s never too low, and he’s really a smart player.”
And the ultimate team player.
“Just a young man that sees the big picture, and he wants his team to be more successful at the end of the day than any individual accolade,” Mac Lain said.
Watson prefers to lead by example. And what an example.
“We heard, ‘Oh, well, when coordinators figure out how to stop him, or now that they have film on him, he’s not gonna be as effective.’ And nothing could be farther from the truth, because he just gets smarter and smarter each and every year,” Mac Lain said.
Watson — who has a 16-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2019 and 61-22 for his career — was the third quarterback drafted in 2017, behind Mitchell Trubisky (gasp) and Mahomes.
“I knew that he would be able to take the NFL by storm,” Mac Lain said, “when you look at his skill set, his vision, his patience. We knew he had the arm strength, what he can do with his legs to really escape to make throws downfield. It was a little bit frustrating to me in college to hear people say, ‘Oh, he’s such a great dual threat, he’s such a great runner.’ When really he was a much better passer. He believed in his arm much more than he believed in his legs, and what people just couldn’t understand at that time is Deshaun would run, and escape to throw the ball. He’s not scrambling to run, he’s scrambling to throw, and we’re seeing that right now.”
O’Brien loves repeating an anecdote from Watson’s pre-draft visit at club headquarters:
“One of the things we do is we bring ’em into a room with the offensive staff and we test ’em. We teach ’em a route, then we leave the room and we want him to learn the route, and then teach us the route — Gun Trips Right 64 Special.
“So I drew it up on the board, taught it to him, then I erased the board and I said, ‘We’ll leave for 15 minutes, we’ll come back and you teach it back to us.’
“So when we came back, he taught us the play like I had taught it right-handed, and then he flipped the play and taught it to us basically left-handed. He looked at me with a little smirk on his face and he kind of winked at me ’cause I was like, ‘Are you serious, you just flipped that play?’ And I said, ‘Did you just wink at me?’ And he said, ‘Yep, because I know this play like the back of my hand.’
“We’re thrilled to have him, that’s for sure.”
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