It might be a smidge too early to hand him the rookie of the year hardware, but wide receiver Sammy Watkins is generating buzz with the Bills. Plus, a reader mailbag with questions about the NFL in L.A. and another team name change
PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Over coffee Monday morning, Buffalo general manager Doug Whaley told me a story about first-round receiver Sammy Watkins reporting, alone, for an offseason practice at the Bills training center at 6:45 a.m. “He wanted to get his footwork that he’d been taught right,’’ Whaley said. “He was out there, alone, before anyone else got there. This is one dedicated player.”
You always want to be careful about rookies in training camp, particularly when it’s not even August, and particularly when they’re playing without full pads and thus not in full contact. So I reminded myself Monday afternoon, midway through Watkins’ second NFL training-camp practice, that this all meant nothing.
But Watkins owned this practice.
He showed why Whaley surrendered first- and fourth-round picks in the 2015 draft to move up five spots in the first round last May so the Bills could pick him. Smart? We’ll see. The price was beyond exhorbitant, particularly for a team that still plans to key its offense around the running game. Watkins' talent is tantalizing. And for a team languishing in sub-mediocrity for the past 14 seasons, his arrival’s been like a B-12 shot: energizing.
I'll tell you about four plays that took place in a span of five minutes during an 11-on-11 scrimmage Monday afternoon, in Clemson-style summer heat and humidity here in central New York.
One: At the snap of the ball, the 6-1, 205-pound Watkins charged off the line at starting left corner Leodis McKelvin. He steamrolled McKelvin. Flattened him. As McKelvin fell, he dragged Watkins with him. Had this been a game, McKelvin would have been called for holding. Watkins was in the right, blasting McKelvin in the five-yard bump zone. And McKelvin did all he could, holding on for dear life and taking Watkins down with him.
Two: On the next snap, Watkins charged off the line and McKelvin gave him his space, and Watkins pivoted left, alone across the middle. McKelvin was six yards behind Watkins when E.J. Manuel found him, wide open, running free on a crossing route.
Three: Jittering off the line, Watkins got free of the corner (I didn’t see who it was) and Manuel lofted a perfect ball 35 yards down the right sideline into Watkins’ hands.
Four: In traffic over the middle, four players jumped for a high ball. Watkins, a good three feet off the ground, came down with it.
Watkins got poked in the eye late in practice and was down for a few moments. Good for the Bills he got up and seemed fine.
I don’t know if Manuel and Watkins are going to be able to keep up the playmaking pace. Manuel has to have faith in Watkins and second-year receiver Robert Woods to make plays down the field, even when they’re covered. We’ll see if he can do it. But on a broiling July Monday, Watkins was the goods. He has surprising power for a player his size, and he’s not afraid to use it, and he’s not intimidated by good veteran corners. I left here liking what I saw out of a player the Bills need desperately to catch the Patriots.
Now for your email as we hit the camp trial:
ON THE HALL OF FAME GAME. How does the league pick the teams for the Hall Of Fame game? While the players might not enjoy the extra game and week of training camp, I’d suspect there are plenty of coaches who would welcome the extra time.
John, the NFL and the Hall of Fame try to put teams in the game based on inductees that season. For instance, this year, the Giants (Michael Strahan) and Bills (Andre Reed) are playing. The Hall figures that many fans going to Canton to see their heroes likely will want to watch the first game of the preseason too.
ON CHRIS KLUWE. I really like the column. Thanks for writing it. With respect to Chris Kluwe, I follow him on Twitter, and find him to be an interesting person (even if I do not agree with some of his ideas). My perception is that he struggles to communicate effectively, and he does not respect others’ points of view. His dialogue (again, based on Twitter and some of his columns which he has written) then turns extremely juvenile and divisive, to the point of name-calling. He also derides entire groups of people. With this in mind, my question is, did he exhibit this sort of behavior in the locker room? Would this have also been a factor in his release?
I was not in the Vikings’ locker room much when Kluwe played there, Andy. But I think there’s a lot of juvenile behavior in locker rooms. I don’t believe anything he did in the locker room had anything to do with his release.
ON THE BALTIMORE PASS RUSH. You wrote Monday about the Ravens: ‘A few too many questions on defense for my liking, particularly rushing the passer.’ Wait, what? Of all the questions the Ravens have on D, you go with rushing the passer? Not the secondary, which has only two good corners and a bunch of undrafted free agents, formerly undrafted or late-round picks, and washed-up veterans battling for the nickel, dime, and fifth corner spots, and a free safety battle between a former Rams backup and a third round pick? Instead, you think the biggest question on defense is that they ONLY have Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs as their pass rushers? Huh?’
Okay. I won’t have any concerns about a team that averaged 2.5 sacks a game last year, with the two leaders of the pass rush turning 32 and 30 this year.
ON THE WASHINGTON TEAM NAME. This has to have been suggested before, but how about Washington rename its football team ‘Americans.’ Not ‘Native Americans’ but ‘Americans.’ And keep the logo the same. Suddenly, the perceived bigotry of the former nickname and logo, becomes the ultimate tribute using the new combination. Thoughts?
—Kevin G., Vista, Calif.
I don’t see it working, Kevin. Part of the protest against the name is the logo, so I think Native American groups would want to make a clean break with the name and all the marks.
ON THE FUTURE OF THE NFL IN LOS ANGELES. The NFL wants back in the City of Angels, correct? Reports are surfacing that the shield is looking at putting the shovel in the dirt themselves (it's about time). Then why not go in with a team and build Super Bowl City? Construct a Disneyland/Universal Studios-esque tribute to the game with a stadium (named the Super Bowl) with a mixed use development of hotel, restaurants and retail to play annual host to the actual Super Bowl. The game was born in LA, so there is historical precedent for it to be played there every year. Super Bowl City would be a virtual 12-month ATM for the league and teams that call LA home. It's time. Let's make it happen.
I’ve thought for a long time the league will investigate something like what you’re saying—a combo platter of football and entertainment. That’s why I think the area around Staples Center and LA Live is the best spot for a stadium and the home of Los Angeles football.
MORE ON THE WASHINGTON TEAM NAME. Love the column, disagree with PC reasons for forcing the Redskins to change their name, but let’s assume you’re correct and the NFL gets the Redskins to change their name by 2016. Isn’t it only logical (and to be blunt, equally PC) for the league to force Kansas City to change the name of the Chiefs at the same time? When the NFL makes a decision on issues, they seem to do so in a comprehensive, fully committed, best-interests-of-the-NFL fashion. I can’t imagine them leaving the name Chiefs in place to come around and bite them in a second round of bad publicity. That’s not their style at all.
—John McMillan, Toronto
Could be. There is no question a portion of the Native American populace wants to eliminate any reference of their people as mascots. And I agree with that. But I don’t sense much of a groundswell against “Chiefs” because of the perceived nobility of the name.