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Why “Old Man” Watson Will Have a Much More Pivotal Role for the Saints Offense Than Originally Thought

He take a thunder from the mountain
He take a lightning from the sky
He bring a strong man to his begging knee
He make a young girl's mama cry

You got to hidey-hide
You got to jump and run
You got to hidey-hidey-hide
The old man is down the road

John Fogerty, 1985

When the New Orleans Saints re-signed 37-year old and now 15th year veteran tight end Ben Watson in the opening wave of 2018 NFL Free Agency several weeks back at the end of March, an audible groan went out among some of the team's most faithful of supporters; who felt that that the team should seek to upgrade the position by "getting younger" via the recently-completed 2018 NFL Draft.

Some joked about the Saints adding another "old man" to the Saints starting offensive line-up that already includes 39-year old QB Drew Brees and 33-year old WR Ted Ginn, Jr.

However, the organization clearly felt that by signing the former University of Georgia star and original top draft pick of the New England Patriots back in the 2004 NFL Draft, it gave them sort of a security blanket; which allowed them to avoid "reaching" on a tight end in the draft and not essentially being forced to do it out of necessity.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

Additionally, it also gave them the option to release then #1 tight end Coby Fleener; who was considered by many to be a disappointment and a free agent "bust" because of a notable lack of production statistics-wise since the team had signed him in 2016 NFL Free Agency (though later it would also be due to lingering concussion issues). 

As it turned out, that's exactly what happened; as the Saints chose to bypass addressing the tight end position in all 6 of the selections that were made in this year's Draft; and they eventually designated Fleener a few weeks ago to become a post-June 1st release (next weekend).

And now as the club completes their opening week of OTA's later on this morning, the Norfolk, Virginia native will already be looking forward to being a key contributor for the team that he played for previously 3 seasons, from 2013 thru 2015. 

Watson left New Orleans in 2016 NFL Free Agency after they had signed Fleener, and signed with the Baltimore Ravens; where he subsequently missed the 2016 season with an injured achilles but bounced back to catch 61 passes for 522 yards and four touchdowns last season in 2017. 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

But the wily veteran isn't taking anything for granted.

"It's going to be a situation where I have to figure that out I think during the OTA process, during the training camp process," Watson said via teleconference after the team formally announced his re-signing. "You got to earn your spot on any team you got to earn the ability to take the field and the trust and all that."  

Watson told reporters that he's still familiar with the Saints offense although he expects to have to learn new terminology and wrinkles. During his last year with the Saints in the 2015 season, he was a big part of the offense and racked up career highs in catches (74), yards (825) and touchdowns (6).

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

While "Old Man" Watson might not be able to replicate the success numbers-wise that he had during that particular season since many observers feel that he may have 'lost a step' and isn't expected to be as big of a YAC (yards after the catch) threat receiving-wise as he was then, he will still play a pivotal role for the Saints offense in 2018.

In fact, he likely will play a much more pivotal role than originally thought.

How so, you ask?

Two words: Deon Yelder.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

The talented-but-still raw undrafted rookie free agent from Western Kentucky University whom the team made a priority to sign immediately following the draft's conclusion, has taken the Who Dat Nation by storm with his very impressive showing at the team's recent Rookie Mini-Camp; and is considered by many to be a "UDFA steal".

But while Yelder hopes to first make the team and prove his ability to potentially become a future NFL star, he still is learning HOW to play the tight end position.

Which is exactly where the "Old Man" comes in.

Watson seemingly would (and likely will) be the perfect mentor for Yelder — and could help the rookie not only further develop his natural  God-given gifts to become a "receiving threat" as a tight end, but perhaps more importantly help Yelder as an in-line blocker (the rookie's biggest weakness) as well.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

As noted the other day by New Orleans Advocate writer Joel A. Erickson: Yelder might be in the perfect spot having signed with New Orleans as an undrafted rookie free agent, to develop his overall skills as a player.

Besides well-renowned Saints tight ends coach / assistant head coach Dan Campbell, he also joins a tight end room that includes the veterans Watson and current #2 tight end Josh Hill, both talented two-way players as both receivers and as blockers, at the position. 

"He’s big and he can run," Saints coach Sean Payton said to reporters at Rookie Camp. "We think he catches the ball well. We have to work and get up to speed a little bit in the blocking."

Yelder knows he must become a better blocker; and while a lack of playing time probably contributed to his shortcomings, he told Erickson that he wants to become a complete player. 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

"Coach Campbell’s a great coach," Yelder said. "He can help me develop my game and become a true tight end, a true Y tight end, an all-around tight end who can catch and block."

Erickson notes that the good news is that Yelder has the most important part down already: which is that the rookie likes to hit people.

“He’s very aggressive, shows the ability to play with great leverage and hand placement," Western Kentucky tight ends coach Ryan Mahaffey told Erickson in an interview. "He’s flashed the ability to be a dominant in-line blocker."

It just so happens that Watson's best trait still at his age is exactly that: in-line blocking.

As noted by Bleacher Report NFL1000 Project AFC wide receivers / tight ends scout Joe Goodberry: last season in Baltimore with the Ravens — in what was his 14th season in the NFL — although Watson was used by the Ravens offensive coaching staff often as a "checkdown option" or a short safe target, he also developed from a move tight end to a guy who can also block in-line. The Ravens' running game did a great job of putting him in advantageous positions to win as a blocker, and at age 37 he excelled in that particular role.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

There isn't any doubt that Watson was asked to return to the fold for the Saints offense for a 2nd "go-around", because of his outstanding blocking skills that can be helped in the Saints running game, which thrived last year under the 1-2 RB punch of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.

So not only will Watson resume his previous role with the team as its #1 tight end in the passing offense, but will a pivotal role player as a blocker in the team's running game as well. And his notable capability as a blocker will no doubt be something that he can help the 23-year old Yelder with over the course of the next several months, as the team heads into Training Camp and the Pre-Season.

That's also taking into account that the standards of excellence and professionalism that Watson has displayed throughout the length of his entire career, potentially will be something that can "rub off" — and be understood and appreciated — by the young rookie as a similar standard that he'll want to have for his very own future some day, as well.

Watson, who has caught 495 receptions for 5,485 yards and 42 TD's in his career; might not be as nearly big of a receiving threat as he has been in previous years, but the "Old Man" can obviously can still play at a very high level.

And it's the whole reason as the team wraps up its first 3-day-long session of OTA's this morning, why the "Old Man" Benjamin Watson will have a much more pivotal role for the Saints offense in 2018, than originally thought........

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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