Quez Love: Birds Say Secret’s Out On 2nd-Year Wideout
More than his overthrow down the left sideline on a sure touchdown, more than coming slightly short of the first-down marker on the final snap of his preseason debut, Jalen Hurts saved his greatest frustration for the postgame press conference after Thursday’s preseason opener.
Asked about teammate Quez Watkins’ breakout in a 24-16 loss to the Steeers, including a nifty 79-yard touchdown, Hurts already knew he’d have to spill the beans on the up-and-coming second-year wideout.
“One thing I was thinking about, though, as I walked up here,” Hurts explained at the podium, “was [Watkins] isn’t a secret anymore. So, that’s unfortunate.”
Watkins, the second-year wideout who didn’t catch his first pass last year until mid-December, was standing about 20 feet away, patiently waiting for his turn to field questions about his explosive speed, which helped turn a simple Joe Flacco swing pass into the longest play from scrimmage of the night.
Watkins was among many storylines competing for attention, along with head coach Nick Sirianni’s debut as head coach and play caller, and Hurts’ first preseason showcase as the team’s starting quarterback.
Even before the 79-yard touchdown had staked the Eagles to a 10-0 lead, Watkins had flashed ability to separate, getting open down the left sideline on the Eagles’ second possession with nothing but green ahead of him.
Hurts, from his end zone, had to deliver quickly with pressuring barreling down, causing his throw to sail slightly past his target, or else the former Southern Miss wideout could’ve added a 98-yard touchdown to his resume.
“I guess the cat’s out of the bag,” joked Watkins, picking up from Hurts’ innuendo that he’s no longer a secret weapon.
Truth is, the secret’s been out long before Thursday night. After missing the first few camp practices with a non-Covid illness, Watkins quickly emerged into a reliable playmaker on the NovaCare grounds, earning praise from coaches, his quarterback and even those tasked to defend him.
Darius Slay, the Eagles’ top cornerback, had already signaled Watkins’ arrival earlier in the week, praising the receiver’s improved route-running, focus and maturity during a press conference. Slay vowed to keep pushing Watkins, last year’s sixth-round pick, to reach his potential.
“It means a lot,” said Watkins, who dropped to the sixth round of last year’s draft because of focus and maturity concerns despite blazing a 4.35 at the NFL Scouting Combine, the third-fastest time of all competitors. “Slay is in Year 8 or 9, and he’s a big-time vet, big-time corner. He’s one of the best in the league, so getting that from him boosts my confidence.”
The key is carrying over Thursday night’s positives into the next two preseason games and the regular season.
Lest we forget, the preseason is fertile ground for eyebrow-raising touchdowns and highlight-reel catches that soon become lost in the vast wasteland of preseason memories and splash plays.
If Watkins needs any proof that the preseason can play mind tricks, he only needs to look at his new teammate, wide receiver Marken Michel, who warranted the same headlines two years ago when he hauled in deep post from Nate Sudfeld in the preseason opener after separating from Titans corner Adoree’ Jackson en route to a 75-yard touchdown catch.
Michel’s crowning moment came too early, as he caught just three more passes in the preseason, didn’t make the 53-man roster and just recently rejoined the team after spending most of the past two seasons on practice squads.
“We can’t get too down on the bad plays that happen,” Sirianni said, “and we can’t get too high on the good things that happen.”
The Patriots, up next on the preseason schedule, now have tape on Watkins. Joint practices next week will give them a closer look.
One week from now, we’ll have a better idea if Watkins is on the verge of carving out an important niche in the Eagles’ offense or if Thursday’s effort was just another splash in a sea of preseason afterthoughts.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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