OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In his introductory news conference Monday, new Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Sammy Watkins wasted no time in delivering a critical assessment of the NFL’s 32nd-ranked passing game and how to fix it.
Watkins believes Lamar Jackson can become an “elite” quarterback in the NFL if the Ravens’ wide receivers get better separation for him.
“It takes guys getting open to be great and look great and be the Patrick Mahomes of the world and be Tom Brady,” Watkins said. “You got to have that No. 1 receiver or that No. 2 or that No. 3 nowadays to go out there and be successful and literally throw the ball with your eyes closed and be unconscious. If I can go out there and be healthy and the other wideouts can make plays … we can be a balanced offense. [If] we get open when we need to get open, I think Lamar can throw for those 4,000 yards or those 4,500 yards [or] 5,000 [yards] — whatever these guys are putting up. I think he can be that quarterback and be elite in this game.”
Watkins signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Ravens on Friday after the team was unable to lure JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.Y. Hilton to Baltimore. It’s been suggested that free-agent wide receivers don’t want to play in the Ravens’ run-heavy offense. Baltimore’s wide receivers have totaled the fewest catches and receiving yards in each of the past two seasons.
Watkins countered with this observation.
“To be honest, everybody wasn’t getting open. I think that’s a critical part with this offense,” Watkins said. “We can blame the offensive coordinators, but as players we got to do our job.”
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Ravens wide receivers did get open more than some would think. Baltimore’s wide receivers averaged 3.33 yards of separation at the pass arrival, which ranked fourth among qualifying quarterbacks.
But Jackson, the NFL MVP in 2019, is looking to become a more efficient thrower. He’s ranked 22nd in each of the past two seasons in passing yards, throwing 3,127 in 2019 and 2,757 last season.
After signing with the Ravens, Watkins spoke with Jackson, telling him, “This is your show. I just want to be a part of it. You’re a special talent, and I just want to come here and try to help out as far as making plays for you.”
Watkins, 27, is now on his fourth team and acknowledged he wanted “new scenery” after three seasons in Kansas City. He said he already feels at home with the Ravens because of his familiarity with the coaching staff. His best season in the NFL was with the Buffalo Bills in 2015, when Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman was the play-caller there. Watkins’ personal receivers coach Keith Williams is now the pass game specialist.
With the combination of Roman and Williams, Watkins thinks he can live up to the expectations of being a top-five overall pick in the 2014 draft.
“I think it’s time for the world to see Sammy Watkins, the one that balled in college and running around the field having fun,” Watkins said. “I think I’m that guy. I just have to put a healthy season together and go out there and will some wins and have fun and enjoy the process.”
Watkins hasn’t produced more than 60 catches or 700 yards receiving in his last five seasons. The biggest problem has been durability.
He’s only played one 16-game season and that was his 2014 rookie year. Over the past six seasons, Watkins has missed a total of 26 games due to calf, ankle, foot and hamstring injuries. He was sidelined for eight games last season for the Chiefs (including two playoff games) because of calf and hamstring issues.
“It’s always been about my availability,” Watkins said. “That’s been the knock on my whole career. I think I’m just as elite as any other receiver in the game as far as going out there and matching up and playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played — blocking, running great routes, getting open. Just haven’t put it all together. This is critical — my seventh year now — to where hopefully I can put it all together, stay healthy, go out there and ball and be elite.”
Dallas Cowboys CB Nahshon Wright cleared air with Richard Sherman after comparison
It didn’t take long for Sherman to respond on social media, so Wright sent Sherman a direct message to explain himself and said the veteran responded quickly.
“I actually reached out to him because after I said it I kind of seen what people perceived it as,” Wright said after his second rookie minicamp practice Saturday. “I wanted to reach out to him personally and kind of clear it up and just tell him that I actually modeled myself after him, I emulate my game after him.”
Wright said Sherman, a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro who is currently a free agent, was not offended.
“We kind of have a mutual respect,” Wright said. “For me, I think it was just genuine confidence in myself and looking up to someone like that. He played under [Cowboys defensive coordinator] Dan Quinn. So now I have the opportunity to play under him and hopefully do the same things that Richard Sherman did. So we spoke, and we have a mutual respect. And he told me if I ever needed help I can reach [out] to him.
“Richard is a great guy.”
At 6-foot-4, 183 pounds, Wright has a similar frame to Sherman, who is 6-3, 195 pounds. The Cowboys can only hope he can be another Sherman.
“I really try to emulate his mental process,” Wright said. “The way he kind of slows the game down for himself. It’s kind of like playing chess. So being able to see the formation, know the call, know what you have and just execute. He has done a great job with that, and hopefully he continues to do that.”
Saying he feels ‘great about it,’ rookie RB Travis Etienne aims to ‘maximize my opportunity’ at WR for Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars have had Etienne taking the majority of his reps at receiver during the first two days of the team’s rookie minicamp to begin the process of turning the ACC’s all-time leading rusher into a player who can line up anywhere — in the backfield, wide, or in the slot.
“At the worst-case scenario, you have a running back with the skill set of a wide receiver,” coach Urban Meyer said. “Best-case scenario, you’ll have a hybrid player who does both and that’s what we’re hoping to develop out of Travis.”
Meyer finalized the plan in his mind the moment the Jaguars selected Etienne 25th overall last month, and Etienne was all in when Meyer told him the next day that once he got to Jacksonville he would spend most of his time learning the fundamentals of playing receiver.
“I feel great about it,” Etienne said. “It’s going to help me maximize my opportunity and skill set. I feel like Coach knows what he’s doing and I think it’s going to work out well. … Football is a game of matchups. We’re just trying to get the best matchups. I feel like he knows what he’s doing and I think it’s going to work out well.”
One of the reasons Etienne returned to Clemson for his senior season was to show that he could be a reliable pass-catcher. In addition to rushing for an ACC-record 4,952 yards and 70 TDs in four seasons for the Tigers, Etienne also caught 102 passes for 1,155 yards and eight TDs — including 48 receptions for 588 yards and two TDs in 2020.
Meyer’s hope is Etienne can turn into another Percy Harvin, who was one of the country’s most dynamic players when he played for Meyer at Florida. Harvin lined up in the backfield, in the slot and at receiver, and ran for 1,852 yards with 19 touchdowns and caught 133 passes for 1,929 yards with 13 touchdowns in three seasons for the Gators.
“I’m glad he’s getting work that, getting those reps right now,” Lawrence said of Etienne. “He’s just a dynamic player. He can do a lot of different things but that’s something that he’s not very used to. At Clemson he was pretty much in the backfield all the time. He ran a lot of routes out of the backfield but splitting out wide is something he hasn’t done a lot.
“It’s cool seeing him out there, working, learning something new. Just to see the improvements he makes every day is really cool.”
It’s unclear how much work Etienne would have gotten at running back during rookie minicamp anyway because of the restricted workload the team placed on Lawrence as he returns from offseason labrum surgery in his left shoulder. He was limited to 30-40 throws and Meyer also said the Jaguars didn’t want him taking snaps or handing off to ensure the shoulder doesn’t get bumped or battered.
“We’re just worried about any chance of that arm getting jammed right now,” Meyer said. “They told me the labrum has healed after three months, which it’s been three months, but we can’t have a guy on the ground. That’s the biggest thing: We’ve got to keep people away from him.
“The pitch count’s not as big as the fact of keeping him upright.”
Meyer said Lawrence should be fully cleared in time for the beginning of training camp in late July. Lawrence said the shoulder feels great and he has full range of motion, though the team is also limiting how much weight he can lift. He said he’s eager to go back to a full load of throws in practice.
“Obviously that’s what I want to do right now but I know there’s a right way to do things and to be careful and put myself in the best position so I’m trusting that,” Lawrence said. “That’s the medical staff, the coaches, everyone’s on the same page. We’ve got a good plan. We know what we’re doing and I’m just trusting that — and it won’t be long before I’m full go.”
It also doesn’t look like it’ll be long before the Jaguars sign Tim Tebow, either. Meyer said the staff will meet Sunday and determine if they want to sign the former quarterback to play tight end.
“I imagine the decision’s going to be soon,” Meyer said. “… All our focus is on [rookies] right now.”
Rookie defensive tackle Jay Tufele did not participate because Meyer said Tufele had a positive and negative COVID-19 test and the team opted to hold him out, though he added Tufele could return for the final day of minicamp on Sunday. Cornerback Tyson Campbell suffered a minor hamstring strain on Friday and was limited on Saturday.
Green Bay Packers sign QB Kurt Benkert after minicamp tryout
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Last week, the Packers had only two quarterbacks on the roster.
Now they have four.
Benkert tweeted a picture of him signing his contract, and a source confirmed the transaction.
The best advice I can give anyone is to believe in yourself. @packers ✍🏻
I’m so thankful. pic.twitter.com/L2W7laiR44
— Kurt Benkert 👻 (@KurtBenkert) May 15, 2021
Benkert is a former undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons in 2018. He spent the 2018 and 2020 seasons on the Falcons’ practice squad and was on injured reserve (toe) in 2019. He was released by the Falcons in February.
The Packers did not draft a quarterback or sign one in the initial rookie free-agent period but brought in Benkert and Chad Kelly for the rookie camp.
Jordan Love is expected to take part in this week’s rookie development program. While Love was not eligible to take part in the rookie minicamp, he can join the rookies this week because of a rule that allows second-year quarterbacks who played less than 25% of the snaps as a rookie to participate. Love did not play a single snap as the inactive third-string quarterback last year.
Other veterans can come to the team facility beginning Monday for Phase 2 of the offseason program, but Aaron Rodgers is not expected to report for the voluntary program. Organized team activities, which also are voluntary, begin May 24.
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