Packers receiver Sammy Watkins says all the right things after his first training camp practice
GREEN BAY - Sammy Watkins had just gotten off a four-hour flight to Green Bay, ready to report to his first Packers training camp, but first he wanted to release a bit of stored-up energy.
On his own, Watkins said he decided to do a workout. He was away from team facilities, and not yet hydrated enough from his flight – “something I shouldn’t have been doing,” he said – when he felt soreness in his hamstring.
Watkins immediately thought the worst. His career has been derailed by injury, battling through foot, hamstring, groin, calf and thigh issues the past four seasons. Now this. Days before his first camp, a chance to resurrect his career, the Packers placed him on the non-football-injury list.
“Honestly, all type of thoughts,” Watkins said. “Because I know the opportunity the Green Bay Packers gave me. To be in this position is like a blessing. That’s why I think I kind of went off the deep end, because I felt something, and it wasn’t nothing. I kind of went from, ‘Oh, I messed it up.’ And, really, you look at the MRI, and there’s nothing there. I was kind of in my own head.
“I think I was kind of in my own head, like, ‘Man, this happened again.’ But it was really nothing.”
A day after the injury, Watkins said, he passed the team’s conditioning test. He said the test was 20 sprints of 60 yards in less than eight seconds. “It’s not easy,” he said. After passing, Watkins said he was cleared to run routes. He practiced Friday for the first time.
Watkins knows he’s battling for a job on the 53-man roster in this camp. He’s determined to do everything he can to make the team, even saying all the right things. When fellow receiver Randall Cobb popped his head into Watkins’ interview at his locker, he asked his new teammate which quarterback is better: Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes.
“I’ve been with both of them,” Watkins said, referencing his three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, “and I’m going to be honest. I think Pat is unbelievably good, but A-Rod is on a whole different level.”
His tenuous place on the roster is why the hamstring mishap was so frustrating. In the offseason, Watkins acknowledged he might not get another shot at the NFL. The former fourth overall pick in 2014 had thought his career might be over before the Packers called interested in offering him a contract.
Watkins said it was a reminder for him to keep doing everything right, even when he has to let out a little energy.
“I’ve got to stay hydrated,” Watkins said. “Take care of my body, stretching, doing all the small things. I’m just happy and blessed that I seen the MRI, there was nothing there. Kind of just scared myself. I was back out there today, went out and had fun. Just really felt good. I’m trying to just start back off where I was in OTAs when I was running around, catching balls and just go out there and have fun without thinking about it.”
Randy Ramsey completes long road back
Before his fluke ankle injury in last year’s camp that ended his season, Randy Ramsey knew exactly the type of opportunity he had.
Ramsey had become a core special-teams player as a rookie, placing fourth on the team with 204 reps in 2020. With a thin depth chart at outside linebacker, he had a chance to crack into the edge-rush rotation.
All that ended on one catastrophic rep, when Ramsey was hustling toward the sideline to make a tackle, and a player stepped on his leg. Ramsey said he broke his fibula and tore two ankle ligaments, providing very different recovery timelines. The Packers placed him on injured reserve, forcing him to rehab all last year.
“I realized I was going to have a great opportunity,” Ramsey said, “to contribute not only on special teams, but on defense as well. I felt like last year was going to be my year to really show I belong on this stage.”
Ramsey flashed a big smile at his locker Friday afternoon, moments after completing his first practice in almost a year. He participated in individual drills Friday morning at Ray Nitschke Field, though he’s still working his way into team reps.
It took a lot of patience for Ramsey to reach the practice field again. He couldn’t walk for two months after surgery, he said. He couldn’t cut while running for four months. Ramsey’s fibula took about eight weeks to heal, but the two ankle ligaments needed close to a year.
It wasn’t until about a month ago that Ramsey’s ankle felt healthy again. Now, Ramsey said, his ankle feels as explosive as it did before the injury, something he can tell whenever planting his recovered left leg on the field.
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“Pass rush is based off of a lot of steps,” Ramsey said. “When I’m able to put the same amount of force on my left ankle as on my right without hesitating, without thinking, that’s when I know I’m back to my healthy self.”
Ramsey’s return gives him a chance to seize the opportunity he wanted a year ago. He’ll get the entirety of camp to show the Packers he’s the same promising player as before the injury. Like last year, the Packers have a thin depth chart at outside linebacker, and they need all the special-teams helps they can get.
“The situation this year is kind of the same,” Ramsey said. “So now I’m just trying to overcome this adversity, this little hill that I’m climbing. I’m just trying to keep that same mindset and come back better and stronger, because the opportunity is kind of the same as it was last year.”
Randall Cobb likens Allen Lazard to Jordy Nelson
Randall Cobb knows what the narrative is; he and his fellow Packers receivers can’t avoid the talk, the fretting, the assumption that their group will take a nose dive, even with a four-time MVP slinging them the ball.
“Yes, we all get it, Tae (Davante Adams) left, there’s a lot of production that left,” Cobb said. “But there's a lot of people that we have that can step into roles and make some plays.”
Adams, now with the Las Vegas Raiders, was responsible for 24.25 percent of all Packers offensive production in 2021. He accounted for 34.25 percent of the Packers' receiving production as well. So yes, as Cobb said, that’s a huge chunk of Green Bay’s firepower that walked out the door.
It has led to think pieces and talking heads speculating if this group has what it takes to put up eye-popping offensive numbers. For that matter, if there is even a WR1 in the group who can fill Adams’ shoes.
Cobb says the Packers' wide receiver room hears that “noise.” It’d be impossible not to.
“We're all on social media and some have more presence than others and we see a lot of stuff," he said. "But again, that's my job as a veteran, as someone that's seen a lot; that stuff doesn't matter. It's not real. Those people that are on the keyboards, they’re never gonna walk up to you in person and say those things. It’s all talk; it’s Twitter fingers.
“We can't worry about. If you put too much time, energy, focus on that stuff, you’re going to take away from the positive things that you're working on, that you’re building on. So that's my role and making sure that they understand that and don’t get caught up in that world. Like focus on what you can control and what you can control is your effort and your attitude.”
The best chance for a WR1 to emerge from the corps is Allen Lazard. The fourth-year receiver was second behind Adams last season, finishing with 519 yards and eight touchdowns. The bulk of Lazard’s 2021 production came in the later half of the season, as he posted three games of 75 yards in the final five regular season contest.
It’s that upward trajectory that Cobb sees as the greatest indicator of Lazard’s future success. It even mirrors a rise Cobb saw up close: Jordy Nelson.
“Lazard and the way that he stepped up in taking a leadership role so far is continuing growth," Cobb said. "I think that he was trending towards the end of the season on a level that we saw Jordy in 2010 on the Super Bowl run. And he followed that season up in 2011 with a big year. So I look forward to seeing the way that Allen continues to carry himself and continue to make plays throughout this training camp and into the season.”