Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur feels like he deserves a little bit of the blame for the hamstring injury that landed veteran wide receiver Sammy Watkins on injured reserve prior to Week 3’s showdown in Tampa Bay.
During his Monday press conference following the 14-12 win over the Buccaneers, LaFleur was asked about how Watkins sustained his injury last week and immediately took responsibility for what he felt like, in retrospect, was pushing his players too hard coming off their Sunday night victory over the Chicago Bears in Week 2.
“I feel awful about that because I feel like we probably pushed our guys a little too hard in that regard, just coming off a physical game, a night game [against Chicago],” LaFleur said on September 26. “Again, [Watkins’] done everything in his power to be in great shape, and he is in great shape. You just look at the volume and the workload and always trying to look at yourself critically and thinking about what we could have done better.”
Watkins had been the Packers’ leading receiver through the first two games and was coming off an impressive performance against the Bears in which he caught three passes for 93 yards and helped secure their 27-10 victory with a 55-yarder late in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, he was placed on injured reserve on September 24 and will have to miss at least another three games before being eligible for activation.
Watkins wasn’t the only player who showed up with a new injury in Week 3. Christian Watson, the Packers’ second-round rookie receiver, was also added to the injury report with a hamstring injury that kept him from playing against the Buccaneers. Veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis and Pro Bowler Kenny Clark — both captains — also both had groin issues limit them throughout the week of practice; although, both played in Week 3.
“We’ve had a few too many soft-tissue injuries so that probably tells you that we’re maybe pushing them a little too much,” LaFleur said. “It’s just an unfortunate part of it, and I feel bad about it, but there’s nothing we can do about it retroactively. We can only control, moving forward, what we ask our guys to do.”
Packers Planning to Re-Evaluate Practice Workload
The Packers have changed a few things about their practices for the 2022 season. For one, padded practices are now on Wednesdays instead of Thursdays, which LaFleur had previously said was done to accommodate them practicing punt drills on Wednesdays. The recent injuries have also got LaFleur a bit worried that he has been overworking his players compared to how they have run practices, in terms of workload, in past years.
“I’ve got our guys kind of looking into our workloads from the past couple of years to where we are at this point, and we’ll make any adjustments that we need to to make sure that we have everybody available for Sundays,” LaFleur said.
At the same time, LaFleur understands there are natural risks that come with playing a contact sport — or participating in any form of athletics, for that matter. The goal isn’t to crack a crack and prevent injuries from ever occurring but rather to consistently track how players’ bodies are responding to the workload and mitigating the risks as much as possible without sacrificing their lofty overall expectations for the season.
“Some of this stuff just happens,” LaFleur said. “It’s football, right? It happens in athletics, whether it’s football, basketball, baseball, whatever it may be. Some of it just naturally happens, and you try to avoid it as best as you can and you’re always trying to mitigate the risk but still knowing that you have to put in the work to get better and get to where you want to go ultimately. To me, it’s just more about mitigating the risk. If there is something we can control, then we’ll do that.”
Watson’s Hamstring Injury ‘A Little More Complicated’
LaFleur had no problem laying some of the blame for what happened with Watkins at his own feet, but things were a little different in the case of the rookie Watson. The No. 34 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft was deemed “questionable” heading into Week 3’s road game against the Buccaneers, but he was declared inactive about an hour before kickoff and officially missed the first NFL game of his young career.
“That one is a little more complicated I would say because I don’t really know how that came about, to be honest with you, because it kind of happened before we even got out there [in practice],” LaFleur said of Watson’s hamstring injury, “but I think he’s doing a lot better, so we’ll see where he’s at this week.”
Watson had garnered a decent share of the passing targets through the first two games, letting a would-be 75-yard touchdown slip through his fingers on his first NFL play but steadying to catch five of his next six targets for 42 yards. He has also been the go-to option for the Packers on sweeps and motion plays due to his impressive speed; although, he has only gotten one actual carry despite numerous motions per game.
LaFleur sounds optimistic about Watson, but his status will be worth monitoring throughout the week of practice as the Packers prepare to host the New England Patriots for their second home game of the season at 4:25 p.m. ET on October 2.