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Sports >  NFL

Bills’ Sammy Watkins takes next step recovering from foot surgery

In this Jan. 1, 2017, file photo, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) looks on from the bench during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets in East Rutherford, N.J. Watkins has begun participating in individual drills at practice in taking the next step in recovering from offseason surgery to repair a broken left foot. (Seth Wenig / Associated Press)
In this Jan. 1, 2017, file photo, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) looks on from the bench during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets in East Rutherford, N.J. Watkins has begun participating in individual drills at practice in taking the next step in recovering from offseason surgery to repair a broken left foot. (Seth Wenig / Associated Press)
By John Wawrow Associated Press

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Bills receiver Sammy Watkins has taken the next step in recovering from offseason surgery to repair a broken left foot.

Coach Sean McDermott announced Watkins took part in non-contact individual drills during the past three days of voluntary practices. McDermott said it was premature to provide a timeline as to when Watkins will be cleared for full practice, though he suggested it won’t happen before the team opens training camp late next month.

Upon concluding their final voluntary practice Thursday, the Bills will have three mandatory practices next week in their final sessions before opening camp in suburban Rochester, New York.

“It’s one day at a time at this point,” McDermott said, referring to Watkins’ recovery. “We’ll have a plan in place in terms of what will take place between now and the time he reports back to training camp.”

Watkins showed no sign of a limp during practice. And though he didn’t take part in team drills, Watkins occasionally peeked his head into the huddle to learn what play was being called.

Watkins hasn’t made himself available to reporters this offseason, and isn’t expected to address the media until camp.

He’s been sidelined since January when Watkins had surgery on the same foot for the second time in nine months. Buffalo’s 2014 first-round draft pick missed most of last year’s offseason practices after having two screws surgically inserted into his foot to repair a stress fracture discovered during a routine physical.

Watkins played the first two games of last season before aggravating the injury when a teammate stepped on his foot during practice. Injury concerns led to the Bills electing to not pick up the fifth-year option on Watkins’ contract last month, leaving his future in Buffalo uncertain beyond this season.

In other news among Bills receivers, second-round pick Zay Jones practiced fully for the first time since hurting his knee during rookie practices last month.

And the NFL announced Bills backup Walt Powell was suspended for the first four games of next season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Without revealing the substance, Powell issued a statement through the team saying he mistakenly used a product that led to the positive test.

“Although I’m frustrated with the result, I’ve accepted the league’s discipline,” Powell said. “I apologize to my teammates, coaches, the entire Bills organization and the Bills’ fans for my mistake.”

He is entering his fourth NFL season and third with Buffalo, and competing for a backup job on a retooled unit that lacks proven depth behind Watkins. Powell had 14 catches for 142 yards in nine games before sustaining a season-ending injury to his left ankle in late November.

Jones is competing for the No. 2 spot after enjoying a prolific four-year career at East Carolina, where he had an FBS-record 399 career catches.

Jones’ return to practice encouraged McDermott in knowing the Bills could also have Watkins back on the field soon.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I would love to see them now together,” McDermott said. “That said, things take time. And this is not the time to rush that process.”

McDermott also discussed free-agent receiver Jeremy Maclin’s recent two-day visit to Buffalo, which came after the eight-year veteran was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs last week. Maclin left Buffalo on Wednesday without signing a contract and visited the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday.

Maclin, who has twice topped 1,000-yards receiving, also left Baltimore without a deal.

Though the Bills are interested in signing Maclin, McDermott suggested they’re not going to make any rash decisions in striking a balance between addressing short- and long-term needs.

“There’s no knee-jerk reactions. Those are over time not healthy and usually put you in a bad position as an organization,” McDermott said. “So in this case, it’s very methodical. It’s not emotional.”

Maclin has several ties to Buffalo. He and Bills running back LeSean McCoy played together in Philadelphia. And McDermott was the Eagles defensive coordinator from 2009-10 during the receiver’s first two seasons with the team.

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