Through the 2014 NFL Draft, which will be held in New York, NY from May 8-10, Florida Gators defensive back Jaylen Watkins will be keeping you up-to-date on his Path to the Draft with exclusive blog entries here at OnlyGators.com.
Florida’s third-leading tackler with 52 takedowns last season, Watkins played safety for the Gators after being primarily used as a cornerback – the position he will play as a professional – during his first three years. Watkins started 28 of the 48 games in which he participated but saw the field for starter’s minutes in many of those other contests.
His third entry comes live from Mobile, AL as Watkins is currently practicing ahead of and set to compete in the 2014 Senior Bowl on Saturday.
Since the last time I checked in here, I spent a few days getting extra treatment rather than training as hard for the combine as I had been previously. It was time to get prepared for the Senior Bowl, which I ended up leaving for on Saturday.
Saturday and Sunday we just came in, did our check in, took the Wonderlic and other tests and got weighed. It was really weird to get measured in front of so many other people. We walked up to the stairs and were suddenly in front of 300 people wearing just our compression shorts. [Laughing] If you know what those are, you will be laughing at that, too.
I took about six or seven different tests and definitely felt good going through each of them. There is not really any way to prepare for them because they’re not standardized tests like in school. The tests work you through concepts and get an idea how you learn and process information.
When we finally got on the field to practice, I had to get adjusted the first day in a helmet and pads. Some guys were only a few weeks out from playing, but I obviously had a longer time off. My first practice went really well, but my first time through warm-ups felt kind of weird. I was anxious, which is something I have not felt in a long time, but once practice got going and I went through the individual period, everything was great.
My coaches – the Jacksonville Jaguars coaches – were really pumped up about the way I was playing those first two days [Monday and Tuesday]. Gus Bradley, the head coach, he saw me competing hard. I got an interception during one-on-ones Tuesday, competing against [Vanderbilt wide receiver] Jordan Matthews a lot. I won most of my one-on-one battles, got a strip attempt [forced fumble] in the team period. Every phase in every period I was in, I made some kind of play. It felt great.
Coach Bradley also taught us a new technique at corner, something I had not seen before, and I was able to adjust to it. It is kind of one of my favorites now, and it has really helped me throughout this whole week.
Matthews is probably the best receiver here and I’ve really been competing with him and getting a lot of balls off him, covering him well. A lot of teams are excited about the way I’m covering at corner. Although I did play safety and nickel last season, my whole point of coming here was to show everybody – like I wrote last week – that I’m a top corner. I think it’s going well. I think I’m really proving myself here.
Teams I’m meeting with have already told me that I’m really helping my self by being here and competing. They really like how physical I am at corner. I weighed in at 194 pounds, which was unexpected. I’m running well, too, and I don’t think they expected me to run well. I’m trying to stay in the receivers’ hip pockets all day and make plays, and that’s what I’ve been doing day-in and day-out.
(Speaking of how I weighed in, I was also measured at just under six feet, which was a little unexpected. So I may have to just grow an afro or something before the combine.)
I know a lot of you are interested to know which teams I have met with so far – and whether I’ve interviewed with your favorite team – but they ask that we not disclose that information until later. So I promise we’ll talk about that soon enough. The Senior Bowl sets it up so you have the chance to meet with every team, and I have taken advantage of that opportunity. Some of the meetings were very formal, others informal.
There are differently some strange and interesting questions that you get asked, though they make you think out of the box, so I understand why they ask those things. My best answer to the brick question – [Editor’s Note: Players are often asked to name all the things they would do with a single brick.] – I said I could use it as a nail filer. I don’t think they heard that one yet.
I was also asked what non-athlete I was the most like – I had never thought about that before. I said my grandfather because he was a security guard at my high school – and most people can’t stand the security guards – but I’ve never found anyone that didn’t like him. I really haven’t run into too many people that didn’t like me; if they felt that way, I didn’t know.
Most of my questions were very positive and fun. Many teams ask you about formations or to draw plays. They try to trick you by asking about certain defenses and catch you off guard. Some coaches and scouts have come up to me randomly while I’m walking around and asked, “Two-by-two, back strong, you have cover four, give me your reads as a safety and your progression.” I could just be walking by myself or with a group of people and they’ll do that, tap you on the shoulder, bring you to a room and have you explain it.
Some of them will say they’re impressed; others will just look at you and walk off after you answer. So sometimes you second-guess yourself wondering if you’re wrong, but I’m confident in my knowledge and what the Florida coaches taught me during my four years.
I like how a lot of them use different tactics to figure out what kind of person you are. Some use questionnaires. Some put you in scenarios. All 32 team do something different, which is kind of crazy. One team asked me what I would do if a teammate made a comment to a female employee who got offended and got the police involved. How would I handle that situation?
Everything changed for me during practice on Wednesday. I was covering Matthews, battling again, and the last play was a deep ball. I jumped for it but came down with my toe pointed at the ground. I kind of stretched and strained my Achilles’; X-rays showed no breaks. I am able to walk – not in a boot or anything – but I am not sure what else I will be able to do going forward.
I would like to get back on the field Thursday, but I doubt I will be able to go. With Friday being an off day for the most part – we just have a walk-through – I’m hoping to rest and then feel good enough to play on Saturday. But I do have to be careful and may have to save myself for the combine if I do not feel confident on Saturday. I just have to play it by ear at this point.
UPDATE (Friday at 11 a.m.): After testing out the Achilles on Thursday and waking up on Friday, it became obvious that I will not be able to play on Saturday. I am feeling OK overall and should be fine for the combine, but it is the best thing for me at this time to heal up and save myself. The good news is that I was able to prove myself during practice, which is when most of the coaches, scouts and general managers evaluate the players.
The other thing we did that was a lot of fun this week was visit the Mobile Gator Club on Tuesday night. I went with Jon Halapio and Solomon Patton, the hometown boy, and we all had a great time. They honored us for being at the Senior Bowl and for our careers with the Gators. We signed some autographs, took a few pictures and ate a catered dinner in this private area not far from the hotel.
Solomon is really happy to be home. When we walked in, everyone knew who he was immediately. He was having full conversations left and right, and it was nice to be able to meet his family and a bunch of people that have known him personally.
I hope you all are able to watch and support us in the Senior Bowl on Saturday. We’re all happy and excited that you guys will be rooting for us from all over the country!
[Editor’s Note: The Senior Bowl airs live Saturday, Jan. 25 at 4:00 p.m. on NFL Network. Watkins will check in with OnlyGators.com next week after the game.]