By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
Start with the avid note-taking. No detail is too small for Ben Watson to jot down when he and the rest of the Browns’ tight ends watch videotape of opponents or themselves.
His binder is always open, his eyes are always searching for even the tiniest nugget that can make the difference between success or failure on a given play. And he is always the one asking the most questions of his position coach, Steve Hagen.
It is that elevated level of professionalism that contributed to Watson’s matching a career high with a pair of touchdown catches in Sunday’s 23-20 overtime loss against the Cowboys. It also is why he leads all Browns tight ends and ranks third on the team with 25 receptions for 229 yards and three scores.
If you didn’t know better, you would have thought that the Cowboys’ game was only the 10th of Watson’s career rather than the 10th of his ninth season in the NFL. But that’s how he operates, with no hint of being presumptuous about what he knows or doesn’t know. As far as the 31-year-old Watson is concerned, a new lesson can be learned with each new day.
“He’s the ultimate professional,” fellow Browns tight end Alex Smith says. “He comes to work, does his job, never has any negative attitudes. And it rubs off on a lot of the younger guys when they can see somebody that comes in and does his job every day. I think that gives them something to look forward to, to see how it’s done.”
Adds second-year Browns tight end Jordan Cameron, “He’s been a great example for me, on and off the field. I think everybody should look up to him on this team.”
For Watson, being thoroughly dedicated and focused in his approach is nothing new. It’s what his parents instilled in him from as far back as he can remember. Their message: “No matter how much talent you have, give a hundred percent in everything you do.”
Watson took the advice to heart. He has a Super Bowl ring that he won with the New England Patriots, yet he has never seen it as a reason to take any short cuts.
His six seasons with the Patriots (2004-2006) did plenty to reinforce that approach. He followed the lead of a collection of players — such as Tom Brady, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, and Tedy Bruschi — who knew exactly what it took to have long, successful careers in the NFL.
“In our locker room, it was never about who had the nicest clothes or who had the nicest cars or who had the best touchdown dance,” Watson recalls. “It was always about coming to work every day, being the best that you could be, being a good leader, being dependable, being consistent. Those were the things that were kind of taught to me as a rookie. So that’s kind of the mold that I guess I’ve kind of followed.
“It’s about being consistent at what you do and taking it seriously, and then having the chance to set the example for guys who are learning just like I was.”
Watson doesn’t merely play tight end. He pours every ounce of his being into making sure he plays it as well as he possibly can.
“Sometimes that’s very hard to do,” says Watson, who joined the Browns as a free agent in 2010. “Sometimes you don’t feel like being at practice. Sometimes you don’t feel like doing a lot of different things. But whatever you do, you want to be the best at it. You want to work at your craft. The guys who play for a long time, the guys who are good, they take it seriously, and they work on their craft. They try to work on something new every day and perfect what they do.”
Watson, who joined the Patriots in 2004 as a first-round draft pick from Georgia, clearly is one of those guys. He has always been fanatical about taking good care of his body, but as he gets older he is even more attentive to staying in top condition. At this stage of his career, Watson has shown diligence when it comes to stretching, getting regular massages, and spending time in the ice tub.
That, combined with his natural physical gifts, allows him to continue to perform at a high level.
“To know that he’s getting up there in age and is still as fast as he is, still as strong as he is, is kind of just like a freak of nature, honestly,” Smith says. “He can do it all. He can run down the field, stretch the field faster than most tight ends in the league, and he’s as strong as almost any tight end in the league.”
But the true strength of Watson’s game resides above his shoulder pads. It’s in the way he goes about his business on a daily basis.
For his younger teammates, Watson is the ideal symbol of NFL longevity.
“I really look up to him the most and I respect him a lot,” Cameron says. “I want to be all about what he’s all about.”
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