Dressed in a jersey and sweat pants, Sammy Watkins paid close attention as his fellow wide receivers went through drills Thursday at the Buffalo Bills' third practice of the spring.
As he recovers from a second surgery to repair a broken foot, that's all Watkins can do at the moment -- watch. He's not expected to be back on the field until training camp.
"We’re giving him every experience we can," offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. "Asking him questions in the meeting, making sure he’s on task, and he has been. Asked him a question today that was a little obscure and he answered it fine. He’s been studying, he’s been working out, so all we can do is give him all the experience we can on video – let him see some things, if we get a chance to do anything only in a walk-thru, and when the time comes he goes out to compete we’ve got to get him healthy and get him on the field."
Watkins has plenty riding on his 2017 season. By declining his fifth-year option, the Bills have made this a contract year. If he stays healthy and produces at the level he has shown glimpses of, he'll be richly rewarded -- either in Buffalo or another NFL city. If not, his career could mirror that of C.J. Spiller, another electrifying offensive talent who simply couldn't stay on the field long enough.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was asked after Thursday's practice about Watkins, and had an interesting response.
"I would say just his maturation process has definitely sped up," he said. "He's older in the league. He knows what it takes. He knows where he wants to get and he's working toward that. Even down to eating right and putting the right things in his body. You can just tell his attention to detail each day has definitely been different than years past that I've been around him.
"He's always been a hard worker, but you can definitely tell he's out there with the right mindset and with a positive attitude trying to help the guys that are around him as well as questioning the quarterbacks and just trying to pick our brains. Just trying to get as much of the playbook down now in the learning process so when he comes back he can come out and react to it at full speed."
Watkins is missing valuable time with Taylor for a second straight offseason. The quarterback made it clear that's less than ideal.
"I mean Sammy, of course you want him healthy, getting him on the field healthy, and him maintaining himself is definitely key to our success as a team and to his success as a player," he said. "It’s a new system for him. All he can do right now is learn from watching, but of course you want him on the field, and that time will come. We’re going to get together this summer once he’s cleared and start chipping away at the offense and getting reps on the field."
With Watkins and second-round draft pick Zay Jones sidelined because of a knee injury, Taylor was throwing to new additions Andre Holmes, Philly Brown, Jeremy Butler and holdovers Walter Powell and Dez Lewis on Thursday.
"It's a bunch of guys out there competing," Taylor said. "They're going out there and making plays."