Bills head coach Rex Ryan has said more than once that Sammy Watkins health is their top priority when it comes to his availability for games. Watkins, who practiced for the first time in two months on Wednesday, was limited, and his Sunday status will largely be determined by the assessment of Watkins' performance in practice by the team's athletic trainers when they review it on tape. There were encouraging signs though that Watkins will be available in some capacity on Sunday against Jacksonville.
"I probably ran 20-something plays, running them pretty fast, moving at a high rate of speed so I've just got to let the trainers do their job and see what they see from it," Watkins said. "Watch film and see how I'm cutting and see how I'm planting and I think I should be fine."
Bills GM Doug Whaley in a morning interview on WGR Sportsradio 550 explained that although Watkins is medically cleared there are still some steps to be completed before the receiver is deemed fit for a game.
"You can be cleared medically to play, but being able to play coming off that injury, such as how it feels when he's doing football activities is different," said Whaley. "You and I can be cleared medically, but we're not running routes and putting a lot of force on that foot and getting hit and trying to get into football shape.
"The medical staff cleared him and now we have to look at how he performs in drills. Then the coaches review him extensively and see if he looks like he should look on the field and determine that they think he's ready. Or maybe they decide he's ready, but he's not able to handle a full workload."
Watkins admitted that back at the start of the season he hadn't cleared the mental hurdle that his foot was structurally sound. There was pain and it only made it harder for him to believe that he could perform on the foot at the time.
"I just felt like I probably wasn't prepared or ready mentally and I wasn't over that hump," said Watkins. "Sitting it out eight weeks and letting it heal I think I'm over that hump and I'm back to being ready to play football."
The receiver said he ran 20-plus plays during team work Wednesday, some at close to game speed, others not so much. Overall he felt good about how his foot responded to the workload.
"I've learned that I don't have to do it full speed. Just go out there run it pretty fast, but you don't have to be all out like game day every rep. The plays that I thought I needed to run full speed I did and the plays I didn't think I needed to run full speed I didn't," he said. "I'm feeling good. I think I should be fine."
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was also encouraged by how Watkins looked on the field considering the length of time he's been away from the practice setting.
"He looked good," said Taylor. "As far as running routes he looked comfortable getting in and out of breaks. We'll take it day by day and see how he progresses throughout the week."
Watkins is fully aware of how the Bills passing game has struggled this season. It currently ranks 32nd in the NFL. As much as he wants to help he's not going to try to play if he finds he has any limitations.
"Of course there's always pressure on us athletes, but not to go out on the field and not feel good," he said. "I'm not going to do that, but if I feel good then I'm going to go out there and do my best. But it's really about being healthy. If I'm healthy enough to play and they think I'm healthy then I'm going to go out there. But I'm not going out there unhealthy."
At this point however, it appears health isn't as much the issue as strength and endurance.
"I'm just really trying to get back used to running 60 plays full speed," said Watkins. "It's not the injury and what I can do or can't do. It's about what I can do this Sunday. Can I run 10 plays? Fifteen? Thirty? Sixty? We don't know yet. We've got to keep building to that point."