Before Sunday’s Browns-Bengals game in Cincinnati, Bengals rookie tight end Orson Charles will be seeking out Browns tight end Ben Watson because Charles thinks he owes Watson one.
A hug, that is.
Charles, 21, and Watson, 31, were obviously never teammates at the University of Georgia. But a mutual friend in the Georgia program put the two in contact in the summer of 2010, and they’ve since formed a mutual admiration society.
In fact, they got together in Georgia in the summer of 2011 for some football talk — and that transformed into Charles getting a real workout by spending the afternoon with Watson’s three children.
“The first time I ever met him I just started asking questions,” Charles said. “He’s had a great career, a long career and I wanted to soak up everything I could. I’m grateful to have him in my corner.”
Charles didn’t have a catch but started his first NFL game last week when the Bengals lost in Baltimore. That puts him 100 games and 73 starts behind Watson, who broke into the league with the Patriots in 2004 — when Charles was in middle school — and is in his third season with the Browns.
Watson said he embraces his role as “an old man” and a role model to lots of younger players, not just Charles.
“It’s important, especially in the transition guys go through when they leave college and get into the unknown,” Watson said. “Picking an agent, the NFL Combine, the draft, that’s stuff you just don’t know about because you only go through it once. For me it was really important to have (ex-Georiga teammate) Randy McMichael on my side, and I would ask him about the draft process, minicamps, training camps, all that stuff.
“I still talk to Randy. It’s a really important relationship to have.”
Charles is one of six Georgia alums on the Bengals roster, so he doesn’t have to go far to find a familiar face. But Watson said he was proud to have helped mentor two Georgia tight ends, Leonard Pope and Martrez Milner, who were drafted in the years between Watson and Charles.
“It’s like I’m returning the favor,” Watson said. “I played with (McMichael) so there was a relationship there, but the way he looked out for me a couple years down the road is something that stuck with me. It’s just something that’s a privilege to do. It’s a responsibility, too.
“Whenever I can help somebody out, I try to do it.”
Watson said he and Charles started exchanging text messages after games and ended up talking technique and about other tight ends making television highlight reels.
“It developed into a friendship,” Watson said. “It’s almost like I have a new little brother.”
Charles wants Watson to know he’s not just new but appreciative.
“I’m like a little brother and he’s the leader,” Charles said. “I follow. The No. 1 thing he told me is, ‘Just approach it like a job and you’ll stay in the league as long as you want to if treat it like a job. Take care of your body. Eat right.’
“For a guy in my position, you get here and get a little taste of it and absolutely you want to play 9-10 years in this league. One of (Watson’s) rules is you don’t go out until you’ve been in your playbook, and I’m trying to follow that.”