A player's learning curve is steepest from his first season to his second. For 2014 third-round pick Chris Watt, that means increased focus and more effectiveness as he prepares for the 2015 campaign.
"This year is so much better, my head's not spinning as much," Watt said after a recent mini camp practice. "I'm not worrying about who I have, I can just play, just go."
And when the 6'2", 311-pound Watt goes, he usually takes at least one defender with him.
Watt prides himself on playing with toughness and finishing blocks. Those traits often result in an offensive lineman being called a "mauler," although that descriptor better suits the two linemen playing to Watt's left: newcomer Orlando Franklin (6'7", 320 pounds) and King Dunlap (6'9", 330 pounds).
"There's some big guys on the left side," Watt said. "They make me look small."
After spending time at right guard and center as a rookie, Watt is now penciled in as the starter at the hub position. He started five games at center in 2014, one of five players to start at seemingly cursed position.
The Chargers began the season with Nick Hardwick at center, but he suffered a season-ending neck injury in Week 1 and opted to retire earlier this offseason. Fortunately, Watt was able to learn some lessons from Hardwick before the former Pro Bowler called it a career.
"How to take control as a leader in the huddle, getting to the line of scrimmage quickly, using energy and motivating guys around you," Watt said.
Watt is applying those lessons on the practice field and it is showing in his improved play. QB Philip Rivers is just one of several Chargers players who have praised the Notre Dame product for his progress.
"[Watt] just has a little bit of an aura about him, of 'I belong here, and I'm ready to go be the center,' " Rivers said.
Another lesson Watt learned from Hardwick is to treat football as a profession year-round, not just during the season.
"I focused 100 percent on football in the offseason," he said. "Hopefully that will translate into a good year."
A good year by Watt, by extension, will mean a good season from Melvin Gordon, who has his eyes set on Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after the Chargers traded up to land him in the first round.
Watt has been impressed by the dynamic Wisconsin product.
"You can tell he wants to learn, he wants to be great," Watt said.
If Watt and the rest of the offensive line stay healthy, it would make Gordon's path to greatness that much easier.
Watt was sidelined by a calf injury as a rookie, but he is completely healthy now and has inspired complete confidence from GM Tom Telesco.
"No. 1, we know he can play," Telesco said. "No. 2, the center position is so important, essentially the quarterback of the offensive line. Chris has those intangible skills and he has those smarts. No one is ever going to be Nick Hardwick, but Chris has a bright future ahead of him."
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Scott Neinas has worked as a journalist since 1993. He covered the U.S. Hockey National Development Team in Ann Arbor, Mich., and worked as a staff reporter for the Monroe Evening News. Follow him on Twitter: @scott9s.