UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: Watt embracing move to fullback

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Derek Watt couldn't wait to break the news to his older brother last Sunday. But there was one hang-up. He couldn't get a hold of J.J. Watt. "He's probably busy rehabbing his elbow,'' Derek said.

Probably, since J.J. has been sidelined with a dislocated elbow since early August. The former Wisconsin defensive end is expected to miss the entire preseason with the Houston Texans.

"We'll get in touch,'' Derek promised.

At the time, he was also planning on reaching out to Bradie Ewing, the former UW fullback who blew out his knee in a preseason game with the Atlanta Falcons last week. Ewing has been lost for the year.

"Bradie was one amazing fullback and one amazing person,'' Watt said, "and he changed the outlook for a lot of guys on this team. He was a huge leader and we were pretty good friends.''

Ewing has become an even bigger resource for Watt since last Sunday. That's when Watt agreed to make the move from linebacker to fullback on the suggestion of Badgers head coach Bret Bielema.

"He (Bielema) told me that he thought it would be best for the team and in my best interests,'' said Watt, a redshirt freshman from Pewaukee. "He said that I could take my time to think about it.

"But I didn't want to wait too long. We're already pretty far into camp right now, so I'm already a little behind. They're working on getting me a playbook so I can be ready for practice.''

In high school, Watt was a running back in a Wing-T offense.

"I was a wingback, but I also played some tailback, which is kind of a fullback in the Wing-T,'' he said. "I got a little taste of blocking once in awhile. It's going to be a little different here.''

Before he could answer whether he has missed running the ball, he was advised that he wouldn't be getting the rock here anyway, never mind. "I was just going to say that,'' Watt chuckled.

But, if everything falls into place, he wouldn't rule out contributing in other facets of the position. "Hopefully I'll be able to get out on some routes and catch some passes in the flat,'' he said.

That was the case last season for Ewing, who finished the year without a single carry but had 20 catches for an average of 12.3 yards per grab.

Last fall, Watt and Jake Keefer, another redshirt freshman, were taking most of the reps at linebacker on the scout team. Keefer is now wearing No. 93 and practicing with the defensive line.

"They're trying to experiment with guys in new places, especially during camp,'' Watt said. "I'm just one of those guys. Coach B has said that he's going to put guys in position to get on the field.

"I feel like if I do things the right way I can make it happen.''

At linebacker, Watt and Marcus Trotter were competing for time behind Chris Borland.

"I was splitting reps with Marcus and I wasn't getting as many reps as some of the other guys,'' Watt said. "I was watching a lot of film and taking mental reps when Chris and Marcus were in there.

"It was just the way the chips fell. I'm going to try and embrace playing fullback.''

Bielema is optimistic about Watt making a successful transition to offense, which would be a nice twist to the storyline since J.J. Watt came to Wisconsin as a tight end before moving to D-end.

"I used to hear all the time when I was a young coach,'' Bielema said, "that every fullback should play linebacker and every linebacker should play fullback.

"That's just an old-school way of thinking and it's not necessarily true. But just from watching him, Derek might be a better offensive player ... I just think he's wired in that way.''

Bielema cited the example of former Iowa linebacker-slash-tight end Dallas Clark.

"I'm not drawing any comparisons,'' cautioned Bielema, qualifying his remarks. "But when I was a linebacker coach, Dallas was a linebacker for me for two years and I couldn't get him on the field.

"He moves to tight end and becomes the highest paid tight end in the NFL (with the Indianapolis Colts) because he just fit better offensively. Hopefully that same thing holds true for Derek.''

The 224-pound Watt isn't sure whether he will be asked to add weight, or take it off. A teammate kidded that he was in good shape for the move since he has a fullback number, No. 34.

"Right now with the switch,'' Watt said, "I'm trying to learn everything I can at fullback and I'm also trying to get on the field with special teams to make an immediate impact. That's my main goal.''

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