As the Buffalo Bills wrap up their first week of training camp this weekend, everyone on and off the field has kept a close eye on the progress of quarterback EJ Manuel and rookie receiver Sammy Watkins.
The consensus is that the second-year signal-caller and Watkins – an early favorite to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year – will be a main factor in any success the team enjoys in 2014. Watkins has already stepped into the No. 1 receiver slot for last year's 28th-ranked passing offense and has made some big plays early in camp, including a one-handed diving catch after tripping on an end zone route.
But, as would be expected, he and the offense have also had their misses. Watkins said that's to be expected:
"Coach is always throwing new stuff at us, so it's hard to come out and be perfect, but that's why we practice. We just have to continue to do the little things right on the offensive side, and everybody's got to do their job."
Manuel said he's gotten comfortable working with Watkins, but the offense won't solely be built around the rookie:
"I don't think it's ever been just Sammy, and Sammy knows that, too. He's obviously getting an opportunity to make plays, just like the rest of those guys."
Those guys include second-year wideout Robert Woods, who's getting a chance with Mike Williams to compete for the No. 2 receiver job. Woods is coming off a 40-catch rookie season in 2013 that saw him go for 587 yards and three touchdowns. Manuel feels having Watkins out there is making everyone else in the receiving corps better:
"I think each and every day, we're working to get better with all the guys, especially myself. Woody is going to do a great job for us this year … I think we're meshing very well."
The Bills thought enough of Watkins to trade a first-round pick next season to the Cleveland Browns to draft him this past spring, then trade wideout Stevie Johnson days later to the San Francisco 49ers. The coaching staff has praised Watkins' speed and ability to thrive in the fast-paced offense the Bills are trying to establish in coach Doug Marrone's second season.
Watkins said he will be content just learning his role as the season nears and doing what he can to prevent a 15th straight season without the playoffs for the Bills:
"We've just got so many guys that can go out and make plays. We've got a lot of speed on the field … With everybody making plays, it's been hard for the coaches and the offense because they want everyone on the field at the same time."
Upcoming Bills practices are at 6 p.m. July 26, 2 p.m. July 27 and 8 a.m. July 28 at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford.
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