Bama's Watkins makes swift return from broken arm
Even Alabama coach Nick Saban did a double-take when linebacker Alex Watkins trotted onto the practice field two days after surgery on a broken arm.
''You back already?'' Saban asked him.
The same question was certainly appropriate less than two weeks later when Watkins returned to action for the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide against No. 1 LSU, with 23 staples stretching some seven inches down his left forearm.
Watkins' swift return has wowed teammates, and Saban. The senior from rural Tennessee seems less impressed by his display of toughness.
''I've been chopping wood since I was about 8,'' Watkins said. ''So I guess you can count it as I've got a high tolerance for pain.''
Injured against Tennessee, Watkins had a plate inserted in his left arm on Oct. 23 and wound up not having to miss a game thanks to an open date.
Equally impressive, he didn't skip a single practice after surgery.
''That's the epitome of toughness there,'' Tide center William Vlachos said. ''I can't imagine what that feels like, but that's obviously some toughness.''
He has 13 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble - and two significant comebacks - going into Saturday night's game at Mississippi State.
A fixture on special teams, Watkins had already undergone surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in late March, but was back for the season opener.
''I mean, the guy loves playing,'' Alabama noseguard Josh Chapman said. ''He loves competing. People have a different tolerance for pain. That's one thing he does not have is pain. I mean, he has a broken arm, a messed up knee. I mean, it's just going to be a temporary thing.''
Tailback Trent Richardson called Watkins ''like our Superman out there.''
Watkins' arm is a little high-maintenance when it comes to practicing and playing. He has a soft cushion placed around it, followed by a hard cast and foam.
Watkins said the process takes about 18 minutes and he gets a new cast after every practice. He was scheduled to get the staples removed on Thursday.
Saban, by the way, is still impressed.
''Alex Watkins is an amazing guy,'' the coach said. ''He has been a great leader for this group and really cares about the team. He has done so many good things to affect other people, and I don't get surprised much when guys come back from injuries, but this guy never missed a day.
''I mean he gets his arm operated on, and a plate put in his arm, on Sunday and runs out onto the field on (Tuesday) like he's ready to practice.''
Saban said Watkins was limited in practice for a week to 10 days. He played on special teams against LSU and didn't record a tackle, but could see an increased role Saturday night.
Watkins broke his arm when an offensive lineman blocked him while he had hold of a Tennessee running back.
''When I broke it, I'm thinking my season's over, but I gotta fight back,'' Watkins said. ''I can't miss any games because it's my last year.''
He's from Nutbush, Tenn., a west Tennessee town of about 250 best known for cotton and as the birthplace of Tina Turner.
Chapman said he's just a tough country boy.
''He's a fighting guy, one of those guys that pain's just temporary,'' the noseguard said. ''He'll get it fixed later on in life. He's one of those guys who's the heart and soul of this program.''