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New Orleans Saints program cover story - Benjamin Watson

Versatile tight end expected to have bigger role this season

If all that comes to mind when you see Benjamin Watson is that he's a football player, you're short-changing him and yourself.

Granted, if that were all there was to him, it certainly wouldn't be totally inaccurate or a bad resume – he's entering his 12th NFL season and third with the New Orleans Saints, a player who has managed to stay relevant in one of the league's most explosive offenses and whose role as a tight end likely will expand this season, as his pass-catching opportunities will increase after Jimmy Graham was traded to Seattle.

But if that were the depth of the description, then it wouldn't come close to defining what Watson is, or has been.

Dig deeper – and the dip might not have to be more than a peek into his Twitter feed – and the word "prayerful" would come to mind. Throw in "socially conscious," too. Classify him as a "mentor" and "leader," and don't leave out "thoughtful."

Remember the "husband" and "father" labels, and try to not overlook the fact that while his charitable work isn't highly publicized – if it's publicized at all – he gives with a sincerity that isn't meant to be televised and trumpeted.

But above all, know that when Watson pulls on his Saints jersey, it represents only a small fraction of his relevance. And that his many facets combine to make him the presence that he is.

"I think (being well-rounded) does (help)," he said. "I don't know how guys stay grounded. This business will throw you for loops. It's such a pressure cooker and it's so hard to maintain any sort of anchor if you don't have it in something other than that, if you're not able to understand that football is what you do, it's not necessarily who you are.

"The fact that I have my family, the fact that I'm a believer, all those things contribute to that. And I still struggle. I still struggle with the ebbs and flows of what's written or what's said, and how I performed and stuff like that.

"(Balance) is something that I should've learned at a younger age. I would've been in a lot better health in the early part of my career. It took me, probably, until year 5 or 6 to get over the hurdle of perfectionism and things like that, and to be able to be free to go out and play to my potential, to allow myself to make a mistake and not totally fall apart. I think that's something that, as a player, you have to learn. But when you're able to do that, you're able to really fulfill your potential."

The Saints will need him to reach a portion of that potential in order to be successful offensively this season. And, again, it takes a peek below the surface in order to arrive at the conclusion that Watson can be more than has been seen.

In the last two years with the Saints, Watson has averaged 20 catches for 181 yards. His role was more of a blocker than receiver as Graham continued to blossom into one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league.

This year, he will absorb more of Graham's responsibilities and while he likely won't be nearing an 85-catch, 1,000-yard season, he has had productive NFL years.

During a seven-year stretch, from 2006-12, he averaged 41 catches for 474 yards.

"I've got a lot of trust and confidence in Ben," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "He's a true professional, he can do everything, we're lucky to have him and I'm excited about the opportunity that he has.

"He's now the starting 'Y.' In the past Jimmy's been the starting 'Y' but Ben's always played a big role just because we are very multiple for what we do from a personnel standpoint. We do a lot of two-tight end stuff; we really mix and match quite a bit.

"He's on the field a lot, contributes a lot, is great in the run game, is great in the pass protection, great in his route running ability, his ability to catch the football, his run after the catch ability. He's just a pro."

Watson believes he'll adapt just fine. And he looks the part – still ideally sculpted at 6 feet 3, 255 pounds, at times he has appeared to be an impossible cover during training camp. Whether between the 20s or in the red zone, Watson had been a reliable, open target in the weeks leading up to preseason.

"I feel good," he said. "I feel really good. I think that one of the things I've learned is how to really take care of my body. Obviously, I can't just get up and go any more like I used to, but I think that part of the process is becoming a smarter football player, dedicating the time for my body but also understanding how to do certain blocks and certain things where I'm not using as much energy as I did before, when I didn't understand. As long as God blesses me to be able to run and compete, then I'll keep doing it.

"Every year there's change in the National Football League. Every year, you're looking at a 20 percent turnover on every team, sometimes there's more than that. The thing about the league is, the good teams are able to morph into change. So, touchdowns will be made by other people – that's how it goes.

"At one point none of us will be here at all, but the Saints will continue to be a good program, will continue to score touchdowns, so that's something that we're going to develop throughout this training camp."

It's one of the facets of Watson's life that he continues to develop as his career winds toward a conclusion.

He's an elder statesman in the Saints locker room and, as such, has been a man that his younger teammates can lean on.

"I think the fact that I'm about to have my fifth kid and have been in the league 12 years, and have gray hair here and there, the guys come to me with all their personal problems," he said. "But I do think that I'm in a role where I can help some guys and one thing I learned early being in New England with a lot of veteran players there, you want to leave your team and your locker room better than when you got there.

"You want to be open to helping guys outside of football, because these are guys that are fathers, they're husbands, they're boyfriends, they're sons and they have life outside of this. I want them to be successful once this is over, and while it's going on."

Watson isn't exactly sure how much longer it will go on for him. Twelve NFL seasons is three lifetimes in a sport where the average career length is less than four years. But he'll be ready for the next phase.

"I would like to go into sports broadcasting," he said. "I've laid some groundwork there and that's definitely an interest of mine, to stay close to the game.

"But I also have other interests – I'm really interested in social issues. I'm a father so I want to do something where I'm with my kids a lot, and I also think there's this whole section of, 'I don't know.' I don't know what God has for me, but I'm just trying to walk through the doors that He opens.

"I want public services to be a component, in whatever I do. I think that's a component right now through charity work, speaking out on different issues, having a voice, having an opinion."

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