By Chris Emma–
(CBS) Clemson quarterback and national championship game hero Deshaun Watson will decline his invitation to the Senior Bowl, an absence meaningful to the Bears.
Watson’s decision, as confirmed by Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, means the Bears and Browns will miss out on a chance to see one of the top quarterback prospects up close in practice.
The Bears could be selecting a quarterback with their No. 3 selection in the upcoming draft, while the Browns hold the No. 1 pick and are in need of a quarterback as well. Top prospects Watson, DeShone Kizer and Mitch Trubisky won’t be participating in the Senior Bowl, which the Bears will coach. Kizer and Trubisky aren’t eligible to play, while Watson was invited having already completed his Clemson degree.
Watson’s choice to decline the game was based on a season at Clemson that just ended last week. He will instead focus on training for the NFL Combine, which begins Feb. 15 in Indianapolis.
Though the teams haven’t yet been divided, the Bears are likely to coach Cal’s Davis Webb, Pitt’s Nathan Peterman and Iowa’s C.J. Beathard, each of whom have already accepted game invitations.
By accepting the invitation to coach the Senior Bowl, the Bears aligned themselves with an opportunity to coach, scout and meet with some of the top prospects in the draft. At last year’s Senior Bowl, eventual No. 2 pick Carson Wentz impressed scouts with his performance, while Dak Prescott won over the Cowboys, who got the chance to coach their eventual fourth-round pick.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace understands the importance of the chance ahead.
“That’s a huge opportunity there,” Pace said in early January. “Our training staff, our equipment guys, our coaches, our scouts, our video guys, we’re down there the whole time. I went over the list of guys with John(Fox) the other night of all players that were at the Senior Bowl, and there’s impact players there.”
As for Watson, the Bears will have to wait to see him at the NFL Combine and hope to get him to Halas Hall for a pre-draft visit.