Firemen make a living by standing up to adversity. I'm fairly certain it was Backdraft, Ladder 49 or Turk 182! that told us all that when everyone is running out of the inferno, they're running in. While I hold the utmost respect for firefighters and the perils they negotiate, that kind of is their jobs. The majority of them actually volunteer to do it.
Philadelphia Eagles' second-year right guard Danny Watkins used to be a volunteer firefighter. He's no stranger to courage. He's familiar with situations where if he doesn't do his job, there's a possibility that lives could be lost. I guess it's difficult for him to understand the rabid nature of football fans in a large market on the east coast. I guess it's difficult for him to understand the competitive nature of media outlets in today's market -- saturated with edgy blogs, print papers, magazines, Twitter accounts, Facebook posts -- with everyone clamoring to get the news to the public first or with the best spin. That must all seem kind of silly when you consider he's seen tragedy, watched folks go through unmitigated hell and survive without so much as a complaint.
He needs to learn quickly that while everyone has their own problems, their own hells, they may not unburden themselves publicly crying, "Woe is me." Our stresses, our frustrations, our emotions -- at least in this neck of the woods -- often manifest themselves through our passion for sports. That must seem silly too, and maybe it is, but I'm not sure he's in position to change that. We demand our media to be tough, to ask tough questions, because that's what we are, and we look for tough answers.
Watkins has been under the gun with the Philadelphia media because of his play so far this season. He was no rookie of the year candidate after being picked in the first round of the 2011 draft by the Eagles out of Baylor, but he held his own on an offensive line better equipped to cover each other's mistakes. Without Jason Peters out at left tackle rehabbing a torn Achilles, and without fellow second-year starter Jason Kelce at center due to a torn ACL, Watkins has looked lost. In fact, the whole of the interior of the Eagles' offensive line has looked lost.
Left guard Evan Mathis and back up center Dallas Reynolds have been no better, if not worse, than Watkins. Football Outsiders, using a formula called Adjusted Line Yards (ALY), created undoubtedly so more mathematicians and scientists could find their way into the world of sports, has the Eagles interior offensive line (guard to guard) ranked 30th in the league on rushing downs. The entirety of the Eagles' o-line ranks 24th in the category and 20th against the pass.
With the Eagles coming back from their bye week break, reporters were ready to find out from any and all of them what it would take to right this ship. Watkins apparently went on a bye week shopping spree and came back with a whole new coat of thin skin. Philadelphia Inquirer beat reporter Jeff McClane tweeted, "Danny Watkins said that he has read certain things written about him recently and prefers not to answer questions from the media right now."
Comcast SportsNet's Reuben Franks sent a similar message via Twitter.
So, now there's a fire lit. Watkins isn't avoiding the media because this is a vital week and he's concentrating on the business of football on the field. He directly related his discomfort with writers calling him out for his bad play with his decision to no longer speak to them. That doesn't exactly display the courage it takes to charge into a burning building. And we know that fortitude is there somewhere, but apparently the NFL is sucking it out of him.
Watkins is a good kid with good character who has years ahead of him, if not on the football field maybe back in the firehouse where he's more comfortable. I'm not sure what the Eagles policy is on players being obligated to talk to reporters. I do know that they normally aren't lining up to talk to right guards.
When they do, you can assume something's wrong. You can assume that bell just went off. There have been a lot of Eagles answering that bell. They're standing up to the heat the media is dishing out and realizing things need to improve if they have any hope of accomplishing anything this season.
The bell went off for Watkins too, but he's going to let this one burn a while.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer and a Philadelphia sports enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.
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