Tempe, Ariz. — For the first time in his NFL career, Earl Watford will run out of the tunnel onto the University of Phoenix Stadium field as a starter.
For the third-year pro who was a fourth-round pick out of James Madison in 2013, it’s an exciting proposition.
“No, not here, no. No, I have not,” he said when asked if it has happened before. “This will be the first time. That will feel good.”
The last line was said with a laugh, but no doubt it will be a moment the 25-year-old will cherish. Officially named the starting right tackle by head coach Bruce Arians Tuesday, Watford said it’s going to “feel amazing” because he’s watched his teammates do it over the last couple of seasons and noticed the kind of energy the experience brings.
“I’m excited for that,” he said.
Watford is getting the chance to play in large part due to projected starting right tackle Bobby Massie being suspended for the first two games of the season. Arians was asked about his thoughts on Massie, and the coach responded by saying he made a bad decision and now has to pay for those actions.
That could mean missing only the league-mandated two games. Or, if Watford plays well, it could mean the entire season. Or maybe something in between. At the very least, the third-year pro has earned the chance to give it his best shot.
Quarterback Carson Palmer praised Watford’s versatility, talking about how he’s played most positions on the offensive line, only to seemingly find a home at right tackle.
“It’s been a great opportunity for Earl,” he said. “I’m really excited for his opportunity because when you have these kinds of chances, you’ve got to seize them. He’s the type of guy that will seize this opportunity.”
Arians said the plan right now is for Watford to hold the job the rest of the way, and one would have to figure a change will not be made unless one needs to be. Along with Massie, first-round pick D.J. Humphries and veteran tackle Bradley Sowell would also seem to be in consideration for the job.
So while Watford will be on the field for the team’s opening drive against the New Orleans Saints Sunday, he knows his work is not at all done.
That’s one of the lessons Watford said he has learned since being drafted. He said it does not matter where a player is drafted, what school they went to or how much money they make.
“Every day you have to show up and you have to keep working to earn it,” he said.
A disappointing start to his career has given way to Watford being where he wants to be, and now that he’s in the lineup, the challenge becomes staying there. Given the talent below him on the depth chart, many would see the 6-foot-3, 300-pounder’s chances to do so as rather slim.
But that question is for down the road, if it ever comes. Because right now, it is Watford’s name that sits atop the depth chart at right tackle. The job is, in theory, his to lose.
“That’s the only way to approach it,” he said. “I have to day-by-day, week-by-week, win the day, win the week, and I’m hopefully able to keep it the entire way.”