IRVINE, Calif. — Sammy Watkins has been on the field with the Los Angeles Rams for three days and has been an active participant in only two practices. But he has already impressed starting quarterback Jared Goff with his grasp of the offense.
“He’s been sharper than I’ve expected,” Goff said Wednesday. “That’s not saying anything negatively about him, but it’s a new system for anybody. He’s been on it. He’s been sharp. It’s been a really pleasant surprise.”
The Rams officially acquired Watkins from the Buffalo Bills on Friday morning in exchange for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a second-round pick in next year’s draft. Watkins didn’t join his new teammates until Saturday afternoon, three hours before their preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys. He had no idea how he would fit then, saying, “I don’t even know the offensive plays yet.”
But Watkins has been a quick study. He’s rooming with fellow receiver Robert Woods, his teammate in Buffalo the past three years. And assistant receivers coach Zac Taylor has been guiding him through the scheme.
Rams coach Sean McVay said he felt confident Watkins could learn the plays relatively quickly because there’s some carryover with what Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison implemented. Watkins estimated Monday that it would take him “a week and a half” to get fully up to speed with the way McVay attacks defenses.
Rams coach Sean McVay is learning a little bit more about Sammy Watkins every day. “You can feel his speed and his juice down the field.” Watkins caught several intermediate throws from Jared Goff today and was constantly matched up with Trumaine Johnson.
By Wednesday, Watkins found himself constantly matched up with Trumaine Johnson, the Rams’ long, big-bodied primary cornerback. They faced one another in red zone drills and Watkins juggled Goff’s throw out of bounds. Watkins then caught a couple of Goff passes deep toward the middle of the field during 11-on-11 work, and the two connected on what was about a 20-yard gain on the far side of the field.
Goff said he found himself in awe at times.
“You try not to,” he said, “but then you kind of turn around and look at everyone like, ‘Everyone see that?’”
“Big, physical, fast — a complete receiver,” Johnson said when asked his impressions of Watkins. “I can’t wait for him to settle down, after a week or two, getting the offense in. I’m trying to work him out as much as I can, trying to match up every time.”
On Wednesday, Johnson intercepted Goff for the second time in three days. He was the underneath corner in zone coverage and Goff threw it right into his chest while attempting to hit Watkins in stride. Johnson also intercepted Goff on Monday while in the red zone during 11-on-11 work when he jumped a curl route from Robert Woods.
Cody Davis, John Johnson, Kevin Peterson and Troy Hill also intercepted Goff on Monday and Tuesday, and Lamarcus Joyner and Mike Jordan missed some easy ones, too.
“I was being a little aggressive the past couple days,” said Goff, who looked a lot better and was more accurate Wednesday. “Some plays I can’t make. And just learning. I’m still learning, still growing. You should test your limits a little bit, I think, but at the same time I have to be smarter than that. I have to take care of the ball better than that, and I will.”The Rams are already getting excited for what Watkins’ presence can do for Goff and the dynamic of their entire offense. Watkins’ health has been a big question in his career, including two recent foot surgeries. But if healthy, he gives the Rams the vertical outside threat they were missing, someone who can take the top off coverages and open things up for the likes of Woods, Cooper Kupp and Tavon Austin.
Watkins is expected to play with the first-team offense against the Raiders on Saturday in Oakland, a homecoming of sorts for Goff. McVay hopes to get all his starters in the game for at least the entire first quarter, though Watkins’ workload may be a little lighter than that of the other receivers.
“He’s looked really good,” McVay said. “He’s got great hands, an ability to run through the football. You can feel his speed and his juice down the field.”