CLEMSON – Given a chance to speak for the first time since making controversial comments over the summer, Clemson junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins was more reserved in his opinions without relinquishing his confidence.
A 2011 first-team All-American his freshman year before suspension and illness marred his sophomore campaign, Watkins was quoted by the Greenville News as viewing this season’s opening opponent, Georgia, as basically a speed bump to championship dreams.
“If we come out and beat Georgia, not just beat ‘em but beat the mess out of ‘em like we should, I don’t see no problems in getting started in the right direction,” Watkins told the newspaper. “I don’t have disrespect for them or for nobody else. I just believe we can be just the kind of team we want to be, the talent is here, we know how to win.”
The article, originally posted June 30, has since been removed from the newspaper’s web site.
Watkins did choose Tuesday night to clarify those comments, which sparked some headlines two months before the start of the season.
“It really did surprise me. I think I kind of worded it the wrong way. But I definitely have the utmost respect for Georgia,” Watkins said. “I mean, they’re 11-2 last year, a great quarterback, great running backs. So I just really had to show my team and my coaches I do have confidence in my team. I just should have worded it different, instead of saying beat the mess out of them.”
Featuring Aaron Murray back at quarterback, and Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall at running back, the Bulldogs are loaded on offense. The defense lost eight players, including seven drafted by the NFL in April, so questions remain there.
But Georgia, ranked No. 5 in the coaches’ preseason poll, were five yards away from knocking off eventual national championship Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
“They’re a great SEC team, they could have won the national championship,” Watkins said. “We definitely have to come ready and prepared to play those guys. They’re not going to come in Death Valley and just bow down to us.”
There’s another Clemson opponent which did take exception to some other Watkins quotes in the original article. Florida State defensive back Lamarcus Joyner, asked about Watkins’ big-play ability July 22 at ACC Media Days in Greensboro, N.C., was unimpressed by the mention of his name.
“Gotta compete. I don’t think he’s a guy you can go defeat on paper, like, OK, it’s Sammy Watkins, play 30 yards off him, make sure you do this, do that,” Joyner said. “Because a guy like that, he’s going to get his. So you’ve got to let him know we’ve got guys in this program just as good as you. And that’s how we feel at Florida State. That’s the standard we set.”
Watkins challenged the Seminoles in June – “I want to be pressed at the line on every play. I pray that they do,” he was quoted as saying – and remains convinced he can handle the hands-on approach, even though he was held to 24 receiving yards in last fall’s 47-31 defeat in Tallahassee.
“I had to beat a lot of pressure my freshman year. I didn’t see it last year a lot,” Watkins said Tuesday. “We got to Florida State; that was my second game back, I was kind of wanting the ball, frustrated, not in shape, there were a lot of off-field issues and wasn’t prepared for the press defense.
“But this year will be totally different, and we’ll be prepared.”
Joyner is moving over to cornerback from safety.
“I welcome anybody at cornerback. He’s a great player,” Watkins said. “But our receiver corps, we really don’t bow down to anyone. We welcome press coverage. We want cornerbacks to press us.”
- Head coach Dabo Swinney said freshman athlete T.J. Green hyperextended his knee during Tuesday’s practice, but didn’t expect the injury to be serious. Green is the third freshman to be injured this fall, following cornerback Mackensie Alexander and Mike Williams.
- It’s fair to say Swinney’s thrilled with the true freshmen. “This is a really good freshmen class. From top to bottom, I really think we hit on all these guys.” In particular, Swinney raved over tight end Jordan Leggett – “I mean, there’s no question he’s going to play” – and defensive end Shaq Lawson – “he just jumps out at you.”
- Watkins’ mom and stepdad are moving to Clemson, which continues a trend of player families moving to town. Quarterback Tajh Boyd, safety Travis Blanks and running back Zac Brooks are others whose parents have relocated close to their sons.