Josh Allen left big shoes to fill on the edge of Kentucky’s defense. Jamar “Boogie” Watson filled them admirably in 2019, but the best is yet to come.
“First of all, Boogie is a guy we’ve been high on for many years — and now he’s really doing some elite things,” Mark Stoops recently told The Athletic. “Not just as a pass rusher, because that’s what everybody looks at and catches everybody’s eye, but he has been really taking it to another level playing on his feet. What he’s able to do in space, that presents some real challenges for offenses when you’re playing a guy that big on the perimeter and to the field. It takes a special guy to be able to do those things. So I’m very high on Boogie. And what I really like about him is he saw the model — saw the transformation Josh Allen made between his junior and senior year — and I notice the same motivation in Boogie’s eyes.”
The praise isn’t just coming from Kentucky’s head coach. Watson has been the subject of multiple offseason advanced stats produced by Pro Football Focus. He had the second-highest quarterback pressure percentage against power five offensive lines in 2019 at 22.8% and he’s the second-highest graded returning edge defender in the SEC according to PFF.
If you prefer simple numbers, Boogie Watson has more sacks in his career than any other active SEC football player. Currently with 13.5 in his career, he needs only four more to move into fifth place on UK’s all-time sacks list.
Take one glance at his stats and the trajectory of his career is clear: he’s poised for an enormous 2020 season.
In ’18, he had the luxury of leaning on Josh Allen’s scraps. In ’19 he had to take his game to another level. Watson explained to Kentucky Sports Radio how he’s developed into a complete pass rusher.
“I feel like my sophomore year and going into last season, I kind of danced around. I wasn’t moving with enough conviction in my body,” he said. “Now if I’m going to make a stunt inside, I’m gone. If I’ve gotta drop to the hook (zone), I’m getting there. There’s no wasted movement. I just think I was very precise in everything that I was doing.”
The attention to detail comes from Brad White. Entering his third year on UK’s staff and second as defensive coordinator, the longtime Indianapolis Colts assistant is an expert on the little things that turn into big results for edge rushers.
Boogie provided two clear examples you may have previously never paid attention to as a player pursues the quarterback.
1. Hand Placement — “He talks about elbows being out and thumbs up. It’s simple things like that when you’re taking on a block. A lot of guys think you gotta go down to apply force, but when you’ve got your thumbs up you have a lot more force than if you have your thumbs parallel or down.”
2. Playing in a Phone Booth — “A lot of guys think you have to wind up and do all these YouTube moves and things like that. He just taught me to play in a phone booth. Everything should be right in front of your body. That’s the biggest thing he taught me.”
Those concepts sound simple, but they aren’t always easily digested. It takes some time for players to take their medicine, as Stoops likes to say. Last year Jordan Wright began to experience results from that medicine, just like Watson did the previous season and Allen the year before that.
“We’ve played sports our whole life. We go things a certain way that we thought was the way to do it our whole life. Once a guy comes from the NFL and comes at you with different terms, it takes awhile for all of that to process. But once you do process that, it takes it to another level,” said Watson.
Once players process White’s teachings, they receive the ultimate gift — a how-to guide on breaking down each opponent the week before kickoff. Boogie is amazed at how quickly the outside linebackers coach can point out a blocker’s weakness.
“Coach White, he has a Ph. D in studying offensive tackles. He sees things. He can watch three reps with a player and he can break down his whole game.”
If practice makes perfect, Boogie is in the ideal position to learn against the best of the best.
Entering the 2020 season Kentucky has the best offensive tackle tandem in the SEC. PFF ranked Landon Young as the third-best pass protector in all of power five football and Darian Kinnard as the fifth-best run blocking offensive tackle in America. Every day Boogie gets a chance to work against some of the best blockers in all of college football, so I had to ask him, who is more difficult to pass rush against?
“DK is a very patient pass blocker. In practice he won’t shoot his hands until maybe you’re three yards up the field. For him, you have to get a lot of bull rush, you have to try to get in his chest early in the snap count because he’s not going to show his stars too early ever, especially in practice. I honestly don’t know if that’s what happens in games, but in practice he’s a very patient setter. He wants you to show your hands first and then he’ll make a move after that.
“I think Landon will give you more to work with, give you more to do. You can do more because he’ll show you his hands and he’s a strong guy, a strong kid, so he’s not worried about putting his hands on you because he can put them on you and lock you up. I think you get more opportunities to do certain rushes against Landon, where with DK you’re kind of forced into a bull rush or a speed rush around the corner because he’s so patient.”
Watson is preparing to become the complete package as a pass rusher, even though there’s still so much uncertainty surrounding his final season in the Bluegrass.
You can watch our entire 20-minute conversation with Boogie on Zoom. He shared his excitement to return to the weight room, how he got the nickname “Boogie” and much more in our 20-minute discussion.