As Sammy Watkins walks into the dimly lit Bills locker room at One Bills Drive he takes the towel on his right shoulder and wipes his brow. Less than two weeks before training camp opens, he is the only soul in player headquarters during the regular season. He's just finished a three-hour session of training that he's performed five to six days a week since mid-June, all in an effort to be ready for whatever plan Buffalo's medical and athletic training staff give him for training camp at St. John Fisher.
"I'm prepared to do everything on the side by myself if I need to," said Watkins of how things might begin for him in terms of workload at training camp. "I don't know what they're going to do, so I've got my mind right. They might throw me out there (with the team) I don't know. I think if they do I'll be alright. I know they're going to do that just to test me."
The reason Watkins feels prepared for just about anything is because his foot is healed. Surgery in April was successful as a screw was inserted to promote proper healing of the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. The last two to three weeks the Bills top receiver has been doing full workouts with little in the way of limitations.
"As far as sprinting and stuff I'm moving and doing that 100 percent," said Watkins of his workout sessions with Bills strength and conditioning coach Eric Ciano. "Gassers, 100s, everything in the workout room. Any explosiveness I'm doing that. I'm doing the cuts, but certain things are full speed and certain things aren't."
The one part of his route running where he's still trying to re-establish his confidence is with his speed cuts, especially when cutting left and putting a lot of torque on his surgically-repaired left foot.
"That's something I'm not comfortable with," Watkins told Buffalobills.com. "I can do any other route except that route. I'm just kind of tense about it. My foot is tense about it."
Watkins fully expects to get past what is probably the final mental hurdle in his rehabilitation process. You can hear it in his voice. The foot has no impact on his confidence. He believes it will hold up now that it's healthy.
Part of that confidence stems from his rigorous training schedule. After ladders and warmups, which are usually followed by 10 100-yard gassers, Watkins does what he calls conditioning routes.
"I'm going through the whole route tree on the right and jogging back, and then the whole route tree on the left and jog back," Watkins said. "I line up again and do it again and it might be a different route."
The dynamic receiver is basically doing his own two-minute drill segment, except it lasts a half hour to 45 minutes with the only break the jog back to the line of scrimmage after he runs a route.
"One day we might work on comebacks and then speed cuts again," he said. "It's like a memory thing. We're just repping it out. Curl routes, circus routes. We're picking different routes every day."
His three-hour session usually wraps up in the weight room where he works on his strength and explosion.
"It's really about being in shape," said Watkins. "Everything else doesn't matter."
Watkins isn't sure exactly what he'll be allowed to do after he reports to camp, but he's anticipating a limited workload, especially when it comes to performing with his teammates in practice.
"In camp they're going to scale it back," he said. "I'm going to be working out with (Eric) Ciano. I'm going to be doing everything they're doing, but I'll be doing it with Ciano. For the most part it's healed. I don't think anything is going to happen, but I think the hardest part is going to be coming back and competing because I haven't done that since OTAs. It's going to be right up to full speed.
"That's why I see them ramping me up steadily. I'll be out there on the field and engaged. I'm doing everything I've done in the past out there on the field, running routes."
Watkins just doesn't expect to spend much time at the outset of camp working with or against teammates.
"I don't know what they're going to let me do. I might go two plays and get out, three plays and get out," he said. "Individual position drills I'll do. So I'm definitely going to be on the field doing some things. You can expect me to probably do some reps. It's really up to them in terms of when."
Having dealt with long-term rehabilitations before, like last year's offseason hip surgery, Watkins has come to learn how to pace himself and listen to his body. He's learned that trying to rush back puts him at risk for a setback, and that's something he doesn't want to invite at all.
"Last year I didn't listen to my body and started off full speed and I had a big setback," said Watkins. "So I'm not trying to have any setbacks this year. It's really about taking your time and getting comfortable again. It's really with your mind. It's healed. As I keep going (in my workouts) I get faster and faster and faster. No one is telling me what speed to run at. I'm kind of gauging it and I get faster and faster every day. I'm healed."