Although Sammy Watkins isn’t fully participating in the Buffalo Bills’ OTA practices as he recovers from surgery early in the year to fix a labral tear in his hip, he is fully engaged.
The second-year wide receiver joins the huddle and then simulates lining up to run a pass route by going to his designated side of the formation but remaining behind the line of scrimmage.
“Mentally, I’ve got to get my reps,” Watkins said after Wednesday’s workout on the field next to the ADPRO Sports Training Facility. “I’m behind. I’m not there every day with the guys running routes. So, mentally, I’ve got to watch the defense, the coverages, watch how things move because I’m going to be coming back soon. And everything’s got to be fast and I’ve got to pick it up.”
Watkins would not specify what “soon” meant, saying he was leaving it to the training staff to let him know when he would be medically cleared to practice. The Bills have five more OTA workouts (Thursday and four more next week – June 8, 9, 10 and 11) and a mandatory minicamp from June 16-18 to wrap up their offseason program, but initial reports from NFL sources had him returning to action for training camp, which begins July 31.
“If it’s early, I’m fine and if it’s late, I’m OK with that,” the receiver said. “Everything is pain free. I’m taking it easy, taking it slow. I’m not doing everything a hundred percent. Basically, getting the time with the reps with the guys is to feel comfortable with myself, get the injury out of my head, so when it comes time for training camp to play and compete, I can compete.”
Watkins has been highly impressed with what he has learned so far from new receivers coach Sanjay Lal.
“I haven’t been on the field that much with him, but my game has improved with just the little things and details,” Watkins said. “You see every receiver now, they’re becoming true receivers and he’s teaching us the way to play the game.”
When asked if Wednesday’s practice absences of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and wide receiver Percy Harvin were due to injury, coach Rex Ryan said, “No, there’s something else and we’ll let them address it, if they want to.”
The response raised some eyebrows among reporters. However, shortly thereafter, a Bills source said there was no cause for concern.
One starting offensive line combination that was used for much of Wednesday’s workout had Seantrel Henderson at left tackle, Richie Incognito at left guard, Eric Wood at center, rookie John Miller at right guard and Cyrus Kouandjio at right tackle.
After failing to crack the lineup as a second-round draft pick last year, Kouandjio seems to be making a serious push for a starting role. Cordy Glenn, who started at left tackle last season, could end up as a reserve for both tackle spots because the Bills don’t seem inclined to work him at left guard, something that was discussed early in the offseason.
“I’m happy with the way Kouandjio’s competing out there,” Ryan said. “He’s doing a nice job. But I’m ecstatic with Miller. I think Miller’s handled it. I think he’s a 10-year vet out there. He doesn’t make mental mistakes and he’s an athletic guy.
“When we took him” as a third-round draft pick from Louisville, “we thought he’d be our starter and we’ll see. But I feel pretty confident that he’s going to be a major contributor for us.”
Ryan said rookie cornerback Ronald Darby “had a tremendous day” of practice.
“He seems to just get better and better,” the coach said. “He’s confident.”
Darby did draw a pass-interference penalty during a red-zone drill.
“That’s tough,” Ryan said of the coverage in that area. “It’s a one-on-one, combative-type thing. But I think he’s really, really coming on. He’s getting his hands on some passes and things like that.
“It’s not surprising. He’s got a great teacher with” defensive backs coach “Donnie Henderson and T-Mac,” fellow defensive backs coach Tim McDonald, “and” defensive coordinator “Dennis Thurman back there, it’s not bad. So he’s got a chance to get better. It’s obvious he’s got a lot of physical gifts and we’re pretty happy to have him.”
With Harvin missing, Marquise Goodwin received more practice repetitions and caught the ball in a variety of receiving roles.
“I think, first off, he’s an explosive athlete,” Ryan said. “He’s got obviously that 4.2 speed” in the 40-yard dash. “But he’s also a route-runner and if you get open, that’s the guy who should get the ball thrown to him. So he’s got some of that ability.”
Ryan noted that Goodwin dropped a deep pass. “He probably wished he had that one to do over,” the coach said. “But I’ve been impressed with him.”
Corbin Bryant worked in place of Dareus.
“We’re trying to give everybody opportunities,” Ryan said. “But if we started a game tomorrow and Marcell wasn’t here, then” Bryant “would be the guy in there.”
Ryan said the Bills acquired free-agent defensive end/linebacker Michael Buchanan Tuesday mainly with the idea of having him be a backup to outside linebacker Jerry Hughes.
Buchanan, a former New England Patriot, practiced for the first time with the Bills Wednesday.
“He’s a guy that’s got length,” Ryan said of the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Buchanan. “He has some pass-rush ability. In our system, he can be flexible. A guy has to have pass-rush ability, drop” into pass coverage “ability, and length. And that’s hard to find, but he has those things and the young man will be given an opportunity here.”
He said he has fully recovered from the sports hernia that put him on injured reserve last season.
The NFL announced Wednesday that Yahoo! will carry the live national stream of the Oct. 25 Bills-Jacksonville Jaguars game in London.
The digital broadcast of the game, which is scheduled to for a 9:30 a.m. kickoff, will be a first for the league. It will be free and available across multiple devices.
The game will still be available on television in the Buffalo area on WIVB Ch. 4.
As is often the case, Ryan opened his post-practice news conference with a joke.
Clearly pleased with a recent haircut, he said, “I’ll go ahead and answer the obvious question: I think it’s eight bucks at Supercuts. I know everybody was curious about that.”