GREEN BAY – It's to be determined whether Packers receiver Sammy Watkins can return to game action Sunday, but he was back on the practice field Wednesday at a time the Packers surely need him.
With Randall Cobb (ankle) out multiple weeks and rookie Christian Watson (hamstring) still sidelined, Watkins is taking steps to return after a four-week absence due to a hamstring injury.
Watkins, who had six catches for 111 yards through two games before getting hurt in practice during Week 3, said he really tested the hamstring with a lot of full-speed running last week. So now he's working on the catch-and-run or catch-and-cut elements in practice, hoping to get the thumbs up from the medical staff sooner than later.
"I felt great," he said of Wednesday's practice. "I'm preparing to play. That's my goal.
"My mindset's to be locked in so if they do call me up to play, I'm ready and I'm focused."
As has been well documented, Watkins' career has been hampered by injuries, so to have another health setback just two games into his Green Bay tenure was disappointing. But he's keeping his spirits up, and the mental challenge of transitioning to a new offense and new quarterback – which he's done successfully before – was mostly done already.
He feels he just needs to get caught up on any new wrinkles in the offense, and he'll lean on his experience to help in any way he's asked.
"He knows what to do," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "He plays the game really fast. There's not a lot of hesitation in his game.
"He's extremely powerful and he helps us not only in the pass game which is obvious to everybody, but he's one of the best blockers I've been around, as well. And when you couple him with guys like Allen (Lazard), that's a pretty formidable duo on the perimeter that you don't always get from that position."
The Packers' offense has struggled through a rough game and a half in dropping the last two contests, so the return of a veteran playmaker certainly can help the cause.
When he's looked at the game film, Watkins sees the offense's problems as mostly self-inflicted, leading to missed opportunities.
"The plays are there," he said. "It's just one of us, whether it's receivers, tight ends, linemen, making one little mistake. Guys are open. We've got to collectively play together as a group and that's not been on point these last two weeks. We've got to give ourselves a chance and stop beating ourselves."
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers shared similar sentiments, chalking up some of the struggles to growing pains with young players, but also emphasizing how one miscue can impact the entire group.
"A lot of plays it's 10 guys knowing the right thing and one guy missing the assignment and we have issues," Rodgers said. "So if we can just clean up that one guy – and it's not one particular guy, it's different guys on every play, including myself – so if we clean that up, we'll be fine."
There were rumblings after the loss to the Jets about potential personnel changes on the offensive line following the unit's uncharacteristically poor outing, and while those might not be revealed until Sunday in Washington, Rodgers expects a bounce-back performance from a group that's "very hard on themselves."
Timing is everything, and in the passing game that applies to the protection, routes and delivery. Watkins' 55-yard completion in Week 2 vs. Chicago remains the Packers' biggest pass play of the season, and one on which everything clicked.
So it's hard to discount what his return could mean to the offense, though Watkins himself believes it could be more about his presence than his production.
"I don't think it's necessarily me, I just think I bring a different energy, a confidence to the group, a mentality," he said. "That's just always been my MO. Whether I catch a ball or not, I'm going to go out there and compete at the highest level and try to dominate my guy, whether it's blocking, whether it's talking in the huddle …
"I'm constantly, 'Let's go,' looking in the guys' eyes, and I think I bring that juice."