BEREA - "You're in."
When slot receiver Chansi Stuckey enters the game from the sideline, he occasionally gives that message to tight end Benjamin Watson. Stuckey's looking for a laugh. Watson's always in.
First-and-10, second-and-2, third-and-18. The situation doesn't matter. Watson is always in the huddle. On an offense that runs a variety of personnel packages and formations, Watson has become indispensable in every one.
"Ben pretty much defines what a complete tight end is all about," backup tight end Evan Moore said Friday. "He can run, he can block, he's tough, he's durable, he can do it all. There's a reason he's on the field every play.
"He really, in my opinion, doesn't have any deficiencies. They utilize him well and he's having a great season as a result."
Watson has been everything the Browns hoped for, and more.
He was one of the first free agents signed by the new regime of president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. He signed a three-year, $12 million deal after spending his first six years in New England, where he was a first-round pick (No. 32 overall) in 2004.
Watson filled a huge void for the Browns, who got only 32 catches, 396 yards and two touchdowns from their tight ends in 2009 after trading Kellen Winslow following 2008. Watson has stepped in with a career-high 50 catches for a team-high 574 yards and three touchdowns. He needs only 70 yards to surpass his career high in yards (643), set in 2006.
"It definitely feels great to have your number called and be a part of the offense," he said. "That's why you play offense, you want to get a chance to contribute in any way. Whether it's catching balls, blocking, there's so much that goes into being a contributor to the offense. It's not just numbers."
Watson had his best game as a Brown on Sunday in a 13-10 win over Miami. He had a career-high 10 catches for 100 yards, team season highs. He joined Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome and Winslow as the only tight ends in franchise history with 10 catches in a game.
"I was so excited to get him here," quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "He's extremely fast and obviously catches the ball very well, but he's very, very intelligent. We move him around a good bit. He has a very good sense of coverages and making the right decisions."
Watson (6-foot-3, 255 pounds) also has the size to do the dirty work. He's worked alongside the line to help Peyton Hillis move within 38 rushing yards of 1,000 for the season.
"He kinda got knocked throughout the league about being a blocker and he's blocked his butt off," Heckert said. "He's been great. We knew he'd be a good receiver and we thought he'd be good enough as a blocker, but he's been real good as a blocker."
Watson's 50 catches are tied for first among AFC tight ends and fifth in the NFL. Dallas' Jason Witten (65 catches, 702 yards, four touchdowns), Washington's Chris Cooley (60, 664, two), Detroit's Brandon Pettigrew (60, 590, three) and Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez (54, 537, four) rank ahead. Watson's tied with San Diego's Antonio Gates (50, 782, 10) and Winslow (50, 506, two).
Gates leads Pro Bowl fan voting and seems like a lock to make the AFC squad again. Watson is a real possibility to join him. Jacksonville's Marcedes Lewis (eight touchdowns), New York Jet Dustin Keller and Baltimore's Todd Heap are also candidates.
"Seeing him every day in practice and all offseason and all season long, he's about as good as they come," Moore said. "He's a Pro Bowl tight end."
Watson is 10-0 against Buffalo, the opponent Sunday. He was never the focal point of the New England offense as he has become in his first year with the Browns.
"In this league, there's so many good players and so many good players that aren't even playing because they were in the wrong situation at the wrong time," Watson said. "It's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and things kind of aligning. You never know one year to the next, and how it's going to be for you statistically. So you just play."
And play and play. Besides a few snaps in the first half in Jacksonville when he had to get an injured ankle retaped, Watson has been omnipresent in the huddle no matter who's calling the plays.
"I don't really think about it too much," he said. "Whatever I'm asked to do that's what I'm going to try to do. As a player, you want to play as much as possible and have a chance to make plays and be reliable."
Despite the unparalleled workload, Watson said his body's holding up.
"I've had a couple bumps, had a couple nicks and some things here and there, but thank God nothing really major yet that's kept me out," he said. "I think I've been blessed this year."
That includes landing in Cleveland.
"I'm definitely happy to be here," he said. "Cleveland wanted me, they sought me out in free agency and I thank the coaches for coming and giving me a chance to play football."
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• WHO: Cleveland at Buffalo
• WHEN: Sunday, 1 p.m.
• WHERE: Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, N.Y.
• TV/RADIO: Channel 19; WMMS 100.7-F, WTAM 1100-AM