Rookie WR Watkins quickly catching on with Bills
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Sammy Watkins has one rule when it comes to playing receiver.
It’s on him to catch anything within his reach.
“My job is to catch the ball. I can’t control where the quarterback throws it,” the Buffalo Bills’ first-round draft pick said. “If my hand touches it, I’ve got to catch it.”
If that’s the case, then Watkins was perfect in making his debut Saturday, when the Bills opened a three-day minicamp.
From catching a side-armed wobbler delivered by former Ohio State backup Kenny Guiton on the first play from scrimmage, to making an arms out-stretched catch that sent Watkins tumbling to the field: there was no ball that escaped Watkins’ grasp to the delight — and relief — of coach Doug Marrone.
“You like the way he catches it. I mean, he is a first-round draft pick,” Marrone said, breaking into a smile. “I mean, if I came out here and he dropped five balls and he fell down five or 10 times, we’d be crying.”
Take a breath, everyone.
During an hour-long session that featured no hitting and was minus Bills veterans, including starting quarterback EJ Manuel, Watkins showed glimpses of the dynamic ability he displayed during a three-year career at Clemson, where he broke 23 school records.
The Bills, who had the No. 9 pick, were so sold on Watkins that they were willing to trade all the way up with Houston to draft him first overall. They eventually settled on trading two picks — including a first-round selection in 2015 — in a deal with Cleveland to move up five spots to take Watkins at No. 4.
Bills general manager Doug Whaley called it both a bold move and a calculated risk in a bid to provide a spark to an inconsistent offense, and help the Bills to end a 14-year playoff drought — the NFL’s longest active streak.
The following day, the Bills essentially freed up a starting job for Watkins by trading Stevie Johnson to San Francisco.
Watkins isn’t shying away from the high expectations being placed on him.
“It’s everything on the line. That’s not just for me, that’s the whole team: the coaches, everybody. We’ve got to win now,” he said. “For me, I’ve got to work a little harder than everybody else.”
Watkins looked good even on the occasional throws that bounced at his feet or sailed over his head.
On one play, he made a double-move — driving inside before making a sharp cut to the outside — that had cornerback Ross Cockrell completely turned around and going the wrong way. Watkins was wide open along the right sideline only to have Guiton overthrow him.
Watkins was crisp and decisive in making his cuts. And he made most of his catches without breaking stride.
“Smooth. I mean, that’s what you saw on film,” Marrone said. “He’s not herky-jerky coming in and out of cuts.”
The next step in Watkins’ development will come May 28, when the team opens its first voluntary veteran minicamp.
Watkins has spent much of the past week in Buffalo meeting with coaches and learning the playbook.
“I’m trying to be accountable with myself, learning the plays, and just getting on the same page as everybody else as quickly as I can,” Watkins said. “Throughout my whole life, I’ve had high expectations for myself. So for me, it’s to keep doing what I’ve been doing, and that’s working hard.”
As if Watkins needed further motivation, a recent visit to see Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly in the hospital upped the ante.
“I see a guy that’s fighting every day, a guy that’s positive and not negative,” said Watkins referring to Kelly who has been in and out of hospital over the past seven weeks being treated for a recurrence of cancer. “He gave me wisdom, a lot of encouragement.”
Watkins even agreed to assist Kelly by taking part in the quarterback’s annual football camp.
“Anything for Jim,” said Watkins.