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Sammy Watkins taking no shortcuts to getting in sync with Aaron Rodgers

Packers’ new arrival at receiver coming on strong, but admits “I’m not there”

WR Sammy Watkins
WR Sammy Watkins

GREEN BAY – During the two joint practices with the Saints on Tuesday and Wednesday, Packers receiver Sammy Watkins commanded his biggest presence to date in training camp.

He hauled in a deep ball from Aaron Rodgers on a free play in the first workout, snagged a 25-yard dart over the middle amongst multiple New Orleans defenders in the final two-minute drill of the second one, and made a handful of other productive plays in between.

But the veteran free agent will be the last person to say he's got his latest transition all figured out.

"I feel like I have stacked good days on top of good days, but at the same time, I'm not there," Watkins said. "I can't get complacent. I've still got to be humble, I've still got to understand that I'm not there mentally.

"Yeah, I can go out there and catch a ton of balls, but it's not about that. It's about doing the little things, the details the right way to where if a critical situation comes up, I'm going to do it right and make that play."

For what it's worth, Watkins felt he had an "outstanding" day Tuesday but then wasn't at his best Wednesday despite a few more impressive catches. He admitted he's being intentionally hard on himself, pushing to reach a more consistent level on a daily basis.

For him, that's only going to happen when he feels he has everything down pat – the playbook, the checks and adjustments, the way Rodgers wants things done – so he's no longer thinking about anything on the field, only reacting naturally to all that's engrained in his brain.

It's an impossible standard or task, frankly, for a player just walking into meeting rooms and onto the practice field with Rodgers for the first time, and deep down Watkins knows as much. But that's not going to stop him from trying to get there, and it's why he's constantly in the ear of Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard to work toward seeing everything the way they, as longtime teammates of Rodgers, do.

The way Watkins explains their interactions in film study, he leans on the other veterans for confirmation, to make sure he's on top of his assignments and responsibilities on every play, and how they might change based on coverages or signals from Rodgers. He wants to be so sure he admits Lazard will even give him a "Dang!" look once in a while when he seemingly won't stop.

But Watkins doesn't want them to stop feeding him even the smallest details about the reads, routes or ramifications within the offense. He's spent countless hours studying the playbook on his own, but after eight years in the league with four different teams, Watkins knows how plays are drawn up on paper and how they're executed on the field can be two different ballgames.

"Sammy understands the game, he's a very intelligent player," said Cobb, who described the advice he imparts as rooted similarly in what he shares with young players about the offense's big picture, but well beyond Football 101. "Maybe it's not about me winning a route at a certain time. It's about me opening up a window for Lazard to get open, and understanding where you fit into each play call.

"On any given route, sometimes it might be a little angle that's just off a little bit, that we coach up and we talk through in the meeting rooms."

All this is a process Watkins, with more than 5,000 career receiving yards to his credit, has been through with contending teams and upper-tier QBs in recent years, joining the Chiefs in 2018 and then the Ravens last year. But with a four-time MVP entering his 18th year in the league and 15th as a starter, nothing else really compares.

Add in the fact that Watkins' opportunity in Green Bay this season might be his last chance to revive a once-promising but injury-riddled and now well-traveled career, and his borderline obsession with all the painstaking minutiae makes sense.

"He's on a different level wanting things the way he wants them done," Watkins said of Rodgers. "When you look at him, he's coaching just like the coaches. He's on that field saying things the way he wants it done.

"I had Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes but it wasn't this detailed and this deep … You have to know every little thing … If you don't, you're in trouble. You don't want to be in trouble. You don't want to be that guy that (he)'s like, 'I can't play with him. I can't trust him.' That's what I'm trying to do every day is gain his trust."

A positive step in that direction may have occurred on the 25-yard bullet in two-minute Wednesday, as Rodgers extended the play briefly, stepping up out of trouble in the pocket. Watkins broke off his route, hung with his QB and gave him a small window amidst the defensive traffic.

In the next instant, the ball was on him, without a defender getting a hand on it.

"He always tells us, 'Don't be a robot. If you see something, make that play. Move,'" Watkins said. "I just followed him and he shredded it in there and I was like, 'Man.'"

After Tuesday's practice, Rodgers referred to Watkins as a "gamer." Told of that, Watkins turned the compliment into a goal for the type of player he wants to be consistently in practice, not just when there's another team to play against.

In a league with no guarantees, the combination of Watkins' intense self-motivation and demanding self-assessment may or may not pay the dividends he seeks in such a short time frame. Rodgers and his teammates have expressed confidence it will, as has Head Coach Matt LaFleur, who was Watkins' offensive coordinator with the Rams five years ago.

But for now, the learning, striving and getting in sync continue apace, and Watkins – without skipping any steps – is eager to see it through.

"I can't wait until I go into Randall Cobb-level and Allen Lazard(-like), to where I know every little thing about the offense," Watkins said. "To where I'm not thinking, I'm just making plays rather than running and thinking, 'Am I running it wrong? Am I seeing this? Am I seeing that?'

"I think once I get there, I can really play full speed, and honestly, that's when I'm dangerous."

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