The News will examine 10 questions facing the Buffalo Bills leading up to the start of training camp.
Rex Ryan would barely entertain the idea of Sammy Watkins being injury prone.
Defending his wide receiver in an interview with Sports Illustrated a couple months ago, Ryan was indignant about the very thought.
“Has he missed a little time? Yeah. Big deal. He and everyone else,” Ryan told the magazine’s Don Banks.
Watkins himself was similarly dismissive, telling the Associated Press “everybody needs a story to write.”
“I mean, everybody’s moving around, you’re getting hit, you’re running. You’re on your feet 99 percent of the time just playing football. Injuries are going to happen,” he told The Buffalo News last month. “You’re going to have nicks and bruises, and you’ve got to play with them.
“I think I’ve been doing a great job playing with the injuries and little nicks and bruises. I’m not going to be the last person in this world that plays football that has an injury or plays with injuries. … I don’t care what nobody else says. As long as the staff, this organization, my teammates trust in me and have got my back, I really don’t care.”
As much as the Bills would like to wish it away, however, the question about Watkins lingers. With the Bills scheduled to open training camp Saturday at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, it’s still unclear when Watkins will be on the field as he recovers from a broken foot.
That has earned him the “injury prone” designation among some fans, regardless of the team’s stance. Consider:
• Watkins suffered what was thought to be bruised ribs in his second preseason game as a rookie. Months later, it was revealed that Watkins actually suffered broken ribs – an injury that lingered during his first season.
• In October of his rookie year, Watkins showed up on the Bills’ injury report with a groin injury, but did not miss any games because of it.
• The following month, he suffered a hip injury that would eventually require surgery in the offseason. Soreness from that surgery lingered into training camp last year, leading to Watkins sitting out the final three preseason games.
• The Bills listed Watkins as having a hamstring injury before the 2015 season opener, but he was a full participant in practice.
• In Week Three, he suffered a calf injury against the Miami Dolphins, leading to two missed games.
• In his first game back in Week Six, Watkins suffered an ankle injury against Cincinnati, forcing him to miss another game.
That’s seven separate instances, and doesn’t include the various other times trainers have tended to nicks and bumps.
“By the time the regular season comes around, Sammy Watkins is not going to miss any time,” Ryan said in May. “No, do we have a timetable to when he comes back specifically? You know, no, we aren’t going to give you that. I can tell you this: he’s going to be ready to go in the regular season, there’s no doubt.”
Speaking at his annual football camp last week, Watkins said he was “feeling good,” and is “healthy,” but that he didn’t “know how much I’m going to be doing, or when I’m going to be active and engaged. I don’t know what the schedule is like with me being on the field, competing wise, but I know I’m right where I need to be at.”
“Nothing’s bothering me,” he said. “Just really prepared for whatever they do. I don’t know what the situation is, but if they throw me out there, I just want to be prepared.”
It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Bills take it slow with Watkins as he recovers. Rest is crucial to repair the stress fracture in his left foot, and it’s not like he has to prove anything at training camp. He’s clearly the Bills’ No. 1 receiver whenever he returns, and while he’s out the team has more of an opportunity to evaluate the glut of receivers competing for jobs behind him.
The concern with missing an extended portion of training camp would be the lost time with quarterback Tyrod Taylor, but Watkins said last week they’d “have something planned.”
“We’re not going to go the whole time … without doing anything,” he said. “We’re going to get on the right page and make sure we stay there. It’s really good that he’s progressing, now I’ve got to progress with him.”
Despite his appearances on the injury report, Watkins has missed just three games in his first two seasons. He’s 15th in the NFL since entering the league with 2,029 receiving yards, but just 32nd with 125 catches. That has led for some fans to beg the Bills to target him more.
Given his injury history, though, it’s fair to wonder how he’ll hold up to more touches. In an effort to reverse his physical ailments, Watkins stayed in Buffalo throughout the summer to work with the team’s training staff.
“It’s been great, actually,” he said. “I might look into doing it every year, honestly. Getting the right nutrition, the right coaching, the right treatment. It’s not with another company, I’m doing it right here with the Bills, our organization. They’re doing a great job paying attention to all the details, fixing my body.”