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PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — Fast as Sammy Watkins might be, the Buffalo Bills are taking it slow with their top receiver's return to practice.
Watkins on Tuesday was limited to mostly running sprints on a secondary field under the watchful eye of strength and conditioning coach Eric Ciano. The individual workout lasted about an hour and came a day after the third-year player showed off familiar — yet brief — glimpses of his breakaway speed and soft hands in making his much-anticipated debut 10 days into training camp.
The last thing coach Rex Ryan wants is to rush back one of his top offensive threats, who is four months removed from having surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot.
"We have a game plan and we're going to follow it," Ryan said, referring to the medical staff's program to ease Watkins back on the field. "As much as we want them out there, we get paid to win games in the regular season."
Watkins is fully on board with whatever the doctors order.
"Just being smart about the whole situation," he said. "The injury, I think it's healed. I think I'll be all right."
It's also not lost on Watkins what it would mean to finally open an NFL season healthy.
"Everything," Watkins said. "That's what I've been fighting for the last three years is being healthy. And I think now I'm to the point where I'm getting there."
Though he's missed just three games through his first two seasons, Watkins has been bothered by an assortment of injuries.
He opened his rookie season with bruised ribs. Last year, he strained his gluteal muscle and hamstring in training camp. The injuries have put a dent in his production, even though in two years he's led the team with a combined 2,029 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns.
The Bills are counting on more from a player general manager Doug Whaley regarded to be the most dynamic receiver in the 2014 draft class. Whaley swapped first-round picks and traded Buffalo's 2015 first-round selection to Cleveland to move up five spots and select Watkins fourth overall.
The decision to have two screws inserted into Watkins' foot in April came as a surprise when the Bills first revealed the news about a month later.
Watkins isn't sure when the injury occurred, and said it wasn't discovered until he had a physical. He missed the team's entire series of spring minicamps and the first seven training camp practices before being activated from the physically unable to perform list on Monday.
Watkins began practice by making a deep catch in stride up the left sideline. Then he made a leaping, arms-outstretched catch over the middle.
His most notable play, perhaps, wasn't even a catch. Stutter-stepping off the line, Watkins collided with cornerback Stephon Gilmore while reaching back to attempt to catch a ball thrown behind him before landing awkwardly on both feet without a problem.
"I'm not saying that was a good collision, but just to let that happen let me know I can go out there and play," Watkins said. "Every play, I got faster. Every play, I stopped thinking about the injury. And that's the mental block I have to get over."
The Bills lack a legitimate deep threat without Watkins. Since 2014, he's accounted for nine of the 13 times Buffalo's had a receiver top 100 yards in a game.
Robert Woods returns as the No. 2 receiver. And there's a logjam of untested players and journeymen competing for the No. 3 spot after Percy Harvin retired in April, and Chris Hogan signed with New England.
Marquise Goodwin and Greg Salas were listed as the top backups Tuesday, when Buffalo released its first preseason depth chart. They were followed by Greg Little and Dezmin Lewis.
NOTES: Ryan essentially ruled out LT Cordy Glenn (left ankle) from playing in Buffalo's preseason opener against Indianapolis on Saturday. Ryan wouldn't reveal the severity of the injury in saying he's not concerned about Glenn's status. ... The depth chart has newly signed Reggie Bush listed as the starting kickoff and punt returner and third RB, behind LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams.
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