Without a preseason catch, Sammy Watkins is still learning Chiefs’ offense

Chiefs’ Watkins staying focused, despite lack of receptions

Kansas City Chiefs' wide receiver Sammy Watkins isn't concerned with having zero catches in preseason games to date. "If other guys are open and catching balls that's great for us, and scoring touchdowns," Watkins said.
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Kansas City Chiefs' wide receiver Sammy Watkins isn't concerned with having zero catches in preseason games to date. "If other guys are open and catching balls that's great for us, and scoring touchdowns," Watkins said.

For Sammy Watkins, the hardest part about Andy Reid’s offense is also his favorite part.

Watkins likes the complexities of the scheme and the opportunity to learn all of the receiver spots. He spends hours studying tiny, intricate details that either make the play a beautiful success or a head-scratching breakdown.

After working with five offensive coordinators in three years, Watkins knows a thing or two about learning new offenses quickly, but Reid’s playbook is challenging the receiver — and that’s a good thing in his mind.

“It’s fun moving around, being on linebackers, being on nickel backs,” Watkins said on Thursday. “That’s kind of been interesting for me. The hard part is moving around, knowing everything and the details between every route.

“You’ve got to stay in the playbook, you’ve got to stay on point, reading three and four defenders. You’re not just lining up at the X and going against the top cornerbacks. You’re going against four or five different guys.”

Watkins doesn’t have a catch through two preseason games, but that hardly means it’s time to write him off. After a career marked by significant coaching turnover, Watkins is focused on finding a home in Kansas City and a place in its offense.

“As you see in practice, (Patrick Mahomes has) thrown great balls, and I’ve caught great balls,” he said. “That’s the things that we’ve got to keep up. Hopefully that’s the thing that carries over in games. I know a lot of people are speculating, oh he’s not getting targets, but not to say, it’s just preseason, but there’s a lot of other things I have to learn in the offense to get used to. That’s what coach is doing a great job of letting me do.”

Though he spent most of his career with one team, before Watkins landed with the Chiefs in March, he had at least one new offensive coordinator every year.

First, it was a season of Nathaniel Hackett in Buffalo followed by Greg Roman and Anthony Lynn. In 2017, Watkins worked under his fourth Bills’ offensive coordinator in Rick Dennison before he was traded to the Rams in early August and had to learn yet another new system, this one from Matt LaFleur.

Now Watkins is looking to Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy for some stability within Reid’s system.

“It’s definitely difficult not being set in stone and learning the offense every year,” Watkins said. “That’s why I’m here. Hopefully I’m here forever. Just getting this offense, to master it, to know it, the ins and outs and switch positions, that’s kind of my goal.”

Watkins hit a snag in his development early on in Chiefs camp when a sore hip flared up, keeping him out of two days of practice. As a new guy who needs as many reps as possible with a new quarterback, Watkins felt the impact of missed workouts in a major way.

“That kind of set me back physically and mentally,” he said. “But with this playbook and the things that they’re throwing out, we’ve got to know the ins and outs. We’ve got to study it everyday. You can’t say, ‘Oh, I know the offense,’ but then coach will throw something that we haven’t worked on in three weeks. You’ve definitely got to be on point.”

Through two preseason games, Watkins has only been targeted three times. One was intercepted, another was almost intercepted and the other was dropped.

His first target against Atlanta could’ve been a touchdown, but instead it was nearly picked off. Watkins stopped in the back of the end zone, waiting for Mahomes’ pass. In a split second, an Atlanta corner raced in and knocked the ball away.

“It was just bad judgment by me,” Watkins said. “I’ve got to come back to the ball, and it’s a touchdown.”

As the Chiefs’ highest-paid receiver, Watkins’ lack of production is underwhelming. But in many ways, it’s also a little expected.

“He’s actually been doing a hell of a job, him and Pat (Mahomes) in practice,” Bieniemy said. “I know they haven’t quite clicked on the field, but as you know, training camp is for a reason. It’s about developing chemistry together. It’s about those guys learning how to function hand in hand. And I will say this: They’ve been doing a great job.

“I know everybody wants to talk about what’s taking place on the field on game day, but I will say this: Their communication, their rhythm, it’s starting to sync.”

Like the rest of the starters, Watkins is expected to play for three quarters of Saturday’s game in Chicago. It’s the closest to a dress rehearsal he’ll have before the curtains come up for real on Sept. 9.

After a solid week of practice, including Thursday’s in the steady rain, Soldier Field could be the perfect stage to show off that development between Watkins and Mahomes.

But if it’s not, that’s OK, too, Watkins said. He’s not measuring success in targets and catches.

“Not for me to catch a million balls, but just for us to move the ball,” Watkins said of goals for Saturday’s preseason game against the Bears, “to do it with ease and confidence and go down there and score two or three touchdowns.”

“We’re playing technically a full game, three quarters. Let’s go up there and put 21 or 28 points up there.”