Impressive Earl Watford prepares for ‘huge year’ with Arizona Cardinals

Jun 10, 2015, 6:39 AM | Updated: 11:38 am

TEMPE, Ariz. — Earl Watford spent some time after mini-camp practice Tuesday running routes and catching passes for quarterback Logan Thomas.

At 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, Watford is not exactly your prototypical wideout.

No, where Watford normally plays — and belongs — is on the offensive line, where he has spent most of the last month impressing the Arizona Cardinals’ coaching staff.

“Probably the lineman who had the best OTAs was Earl Watford,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said last week. “He was playing four positions and playing extremely well. I’m really, really happy with what he did.

“He could push — he played right tackle very well, he played left tackle a little bit, which was new for him. He’s a heck of an athlete and it looks like hopefully the light’s come on and really anxious to see him in camp.”

The only spots the coach said Watford would not be able to push for are left tackle, because that’s where Jared Veldheer plays, and center, because, well, he struggled with it.

“I’ll stay away from that,” Watford said with a laugh. “I’ll take all the other ones.”

You can probably add receiver to the list, though Watford said if they wanted him to do it, he’d be game.

Because for the third-year pro out of James Madison, it is all about versatility.

“It’s early in the year, you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “Just get out there, get to every position. Learn as many positions as possible. If you want to add another one, that’s fine. I’m super excited, it’s a big year and I’ve got to make some big plays.”

Watford played just nine snaps last season — all at left guard — and with the way the Cardinals’ roster is constructed, he does not appear to be in line for much of an increase.

In the offseason, the team went out and signed left guard Mike Iupati to a five-year, $40 million contract and drafted D.J. Humphries with its first-round draft pick. The Cardinals also shifted their 2013 first-round pick, Jonathan Cooper, to right guard.

While the moves may have made the team better, they didn’t exactly open a door for Watford.

“It’s a big offseason. They brought in some big guys, some big names,” he said. “It just pushes me to compete and push myself as far as I can to put myself in a position to get on the field and help the team win a Super Bowl.”

That’s all Watford can do, and he said he will just worry about controlling what he can control. The coaches will make their decisions, but all he can do is focus on himself and improving as a player.

“I’ve got a lot of things I want to do, mentally, to get myself better,” he said. “Physically I’m in a good spot, but there’s always things you can improve on. Just want to make myself smarter.”

The former fourth-round pick said there’s a lot more he can handle now mentally than he could over his first couple seasons, which helps in picking things up and learning the offense.

That task would seem to be made more difficult by the fact that he is learning four different positions, but Watford’s ability to handle them all only increases his value to the team.

His work has not gone unnoticed, but if Watford is really going to make a push for playing time, it will come during training camp when the pads are on and the game gets physical. During camp last year, Watford competed with Paul Fanaika for the right guard spot, though he was ultimately unable to unseat the incumbent.

Once again Watford finds himself fighting a bit of an uphill battle, though it appears he’s more prepared than ever to come out on top.

“It’s a huge year for me,” he said. “The first two haven’t gone the way I wanted. There’s a lot to improve. Just got to keep getting better, keep showing up every day, doing whatever they ask me, but perfect it. And just get smarter as a football player.”

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