The 2016 season will be Deshaun Watson's last as a Clemson Tiger. The NFL awaits. Watson almost certainly will be the first player taken in next year's draft, and he'll probably be expected to resurrect a downtrodden franchise (the Browns? For sure, it will be the Browns) with his exquisite quarterback abilities. But before he departs for bigger and better things, Watson must steer the ship for the most important season of Clemson football since 1981, the last and only time the Tigers were national champions
In the 35 seasons since, Clemson has appeared in the national championship game just once—last season's 45-40 loss to Alabama. Watson's 2015 stats were absurd. He threw for 4,104 yards and rushed for 1,105 more, producing a combined 47 touchdowns in one of the greatest college seasons ever for a dual-threat quarterback. But the expectations to reach a second consecutive championship game—and to win it—weigh heavily on Watson's shoulders; so he spent the off-season working his butt off to bring another trophy home to Clemson.
Watson arrived at training camp weighing 218 pounds, 15 pounds heavier than what he played at last season. Adding weight could slow him down on running plays, but Clemson quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter dismissed those concerns back in July.
"He's gained some really good weight," Streeter told The Clemson Insider. "He keeps coming back to me and saying, 'Coach, I feel great.' His legs are getting thicker, he's stronger in his lower body and he feels faster. He looked faster in the spring than he did in the fall, even with this weight gain. So, that's been big for him and his confidence. It's exciting. If he can maintain 215, I'll be very happy, and I know he will, too."
— Jah'kim McCullough (@Gold_Slugga) June 10, 2016
Watson's work on his legs was evident during a team workout in June, in which he cleaned 315 pounds with minimal effort, garnering much adulation from his surrounding teammates.
Aside from strengthening his lower body in the weight room, Watson also spent a big chunk of the off-season working on his footwork and accuracy from the pocket. Over the summer, he attended the Manning Passing Academy, and videos posted to his Instagram show him going through speed ladders and mini-hurdles as if he were in the pocket—and performing throwing drills like sitting in a chair and tossing passes to teammates. Watson also hit the crossbar with a pass while sitting on the ground, showing off both his arm and ability to hit a target.
— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) August 26, 2016
ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit noticed both Watson's new physique and his improved accuracy when he dropped in on a Clemson practice on Aug. 26.
With the regular-season opener against Auburn looming on Saturday, and both Heisman and championship expectations starting to ramp up, Watson has certainly put in the work during the off-season to ensure that Clemson's 2016 season will not be forgotten any time soon.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock