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Christian Watson feeling strong this spring after trip to UW-Madison

Packers receiver met with specialists at Badger Athletic Performance after 2023 season

WR Christian Watson
WR Christian Watson

GREEN BAY – Christian Watson smirks while admitting he's probably learned more about the human anatomy over the past year than his first 24 combined.

"I liked science when I was a kid, but it was never my strong suit," said the Packers' third-year receiver with a laugh after Tuesday's OTA practice.

The biology lessons came fast and furious this offseason, as the 6-foot-4, 208-pound receiver sought answers for the recurring hamstring injuries that caused him to miss eight games last season.

Along with cornerback Eric Stokes and members of the Packers' training staff, Watson traveled to Madison after the season to meet with the specialists at Badger Athletic Performance.

It's part of the $4 million grant the NFL Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) awarded the medical researchers at UW-Madison in July 2021 to study prevention and treatment of hamstring injuries for elite football players.

Watson and Stokes underwent a battery of tests and body scans in hope of mitigating the hamstring issues that hampered them last season, helping create a baseline for the two. While the lasting benefits of that trip are wide-ranging, Watson felt one of the biggest things he learned was the importance of symmetry between the strength of his two legs and how that can translate to injury.

For example, Watson said he had a little less strength in his right leg compared to his left, which can put more strain on the left side.

"Obviously when you're trying to be equal in power, it obviously puts a lot more stress on the one that's not as strong," Watson said. "That's been the No. 1 thing for me because that leads to fatigue, as well. It's a bad place to be, so obviously that's been my No. 1 goal to just kind of eliminate that. "

One resource that's been particularly helpful to Watson is a NordBord, which is used to measure hamstring strength and imbalance in a range of positions and exercises.

The device locks around the individual's ankles and data is collected with athlete falling forward in a push-up position. Perfect symmetry would be zero, though that's virtually impossible to achieve. Watson said he "was around 20-something percent (off)" and "now I'm probably like 10 to 12 percent better than that." His goal is to get within 6% symmetry.

"We have a NordBord that tells us the power outputs and the asymmetry," Watson said. "Honestly, that's my favorite part of the week, just going in there and getting to see that we've knocked off 4, 5, 6 percent of that asymmetry every week. Obviously, I still have a goal to get to. I want to be perfectly symmetrical, so I'll continue to work on that."

There's little question what impact a healthy Watson has on the Packers' offense. The former second-round pick has averaged 14.97 yards per catch through his first two seasons, the top mark for Green Bay pass-catchers with 65 or more catches in their first two seasons since Greg Jennings in 2006-07 (15.84 avg. on 98 receptions).

After missing the first three games of the 2023 regular season with a hamstring injury, Watson was just starting to hit his groove during a 71-yard, two-touchdown performance against Kansas City on Dec. 3 when he tweaked it again.

Watson was his same playmaking self on the practice field Tuesday, looking fast breaking on routes and making perhaps the niftiest catch of the day on a pass down the seam during 7-on-7.

"I think it's just some of the training methods, and then him making sure that he's doing all the little things when he's away from here," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said of the forthgoing plan for Watson. "He's embraced that and has been very disciplined in his approach. So, he is in a really good place right now."

LaFleur acknowledges only time will tell whether the organization has found long-term answers for Watson's soft-tissue issues but said both he and Stokes "look like they're probably in the best shape I've seen either one of them."

From an X's and O's perspective, LaFleur has been impressed with how the 25-year-old wideout has led his position room this offseason and the rapport he's built with quarterback Jordan Love.

Watson said he traded a glance with Stokes in the weight room prior to Tuesday's practice and both agreed they're feeling a difference this spring. Moving forward, the key is being conscious of their body and when fatigue is setting in.

"At this level of any sport, I think you gotta know your body," Watson said. "Just to be able to learn about it and understand how everything works has helped me a lot in terms of what I'm doing. I'm not just doing it because they're telling me. I'm doing it because I understand what it's going to do for me."