Mike Carmin of the Journal and Courier is reporting that defensive tackle Anthony Watts will utilize his extra year of eligibility and return for the 2021 season.
What He Brings to the Defense
This is huge news for new defensive coordinator Brad Lambert and new defensive line coach Mark Hagan. Defensive tackle was a question coming into the offseason, but it could now potentially be a strength with Jack Sullivan and Bryce Austin opting back into the team after a late season “opt out” and Anthony Watts returning for a super senior season.
One of my many issues with the Diaco disaster was his inability to get Watts on the field. Anthony was an important piece for the defense in 2018 and 2019, but Diaco didn’t have any use for the 3 technique defensive tackle. The senior appeared in only 3 games and registered 6 tackles.
Lambert’s defense will lean heavily on 4 man fronts, putting Watts squarely back in the mix for 2021. In 2019 the 6’4”, 300 pound defensive tackle appeared in 10 games, recorded 35 tackles, was 3rd on the team in tackles for loss with 7, and managed 2 sacks. He did this while gutting out a nasty elbow injury he suffered midway through the season that would have ended the year for most players. In 2018 he appeared in all 13 games, recording 42 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, and an interception.
Watts is a stout run defender who occasionally flashes moments of impressive athleticism. Every now and then he’ll time up a snap count or get a guard to whiff and blow up a play in the backfield. He’s versatile enough to play all 3 downs, and could potentially slide over and play nose on passing downs, allowing Coach Lambert to bring in a more pass rush oriented tackle to play next to him.
What This Means Going Forward
In all honesty, the coaching staff dodged a huge bullet after failing to bring in a defensive tackle in the 2021 class. The addition of South Carolina transfer Joseph Anderson (who I project as a 3 tech defensive tackle) and the return of Watts makes it significantly more palatable.
Defensive tackle is still a major need in the 2022 class, but more so at nose tackle than the 3 technique spot. I’ve mentioned him before but 6’4, 335 pound defensive tackle prospect Kenneth Grant out of Merrillville, Indiana could give the Boilermakers exactly what they need at defensive tackle.
Tip of the cap to Coach Brohm. I’ve been rather vocal on my concerns about his ability to put together a defense, but bringing in Coach Lambert, Hagan, and English, paired with the return of Anthony Watts and the additions of Joseph Anderson and O.C. Brothers has me significantly more optimistic moving forward.