Trainer Jason Riley Reveals Secrets to Building Sammy Watkins' Game-Breaking Speed

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Buffalo Bills fans have been waiting a long time for Sammy Watkins. The wide receiver didn’t officially become a pro until going No. 4 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. Yet now that he’s here, the former Clemson star has 15 years to make up for. Hall-of-Fame wideout Andre Reed left the Bills after the 1999 season and the organization has been searching for a replacement ever since.

However, Watkins has actually been so good in training camp that Reed comparisons might not be enough. Try Randy Moss instead. With a devastating combination of size (6-1), speed (unofficial 4.34 40-yard dash), hands, and results (ACC-leading 1,464 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns last year, with seven of those coming on plays of 40 yards or more), Watkins is considered a favorite for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Analysts are speaking of him as if he’s already an All-Pro.

In preparation for his first season, Watkins trained with Jason Riley of Performance Compound, where they focused on improving the receiver’s already blinding speed. We recently caught up with Riley to talk about how they maximized the receiver’s power in his first few steps, and what makes Watkins different than any other rookie wide receiver.

Interview by Sean Sweeney (@SEANesweeney)

What are some staples of Sammy’s offseason speed workouts?

Sammy's speed workouts consisted of one day dedicated to acceleration mechanics, one day dedicated to change of direction mechanics and one day is dedicated to routes and conditioning components. Some of the staples were sled and bullet belt acceleration runs. With these drills, we are really trying to maximize rate of force production into the ground, as well as maximize direction of force through a full range of motion, therefore, maximizing his ability to create separation with the DBs.

With Sammy and then with any other really fast pro athletes, are you doing dynamic warm-ups to start?

We perform A.D. warm-ups prior to every speed/agility session we do. We have found this an invaluable tool to not only warm-up the body for the specific movements they will see within the workout, but to re-emphasize proper movement mechanics every day they are on the field.


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In preparation for the draft and now the NFL, did you improve anything specifically about his speed?

In preparation for the draft, we were really emphasizing Sammy's first two steps, because if we could perfect the first two steps, the rest of the run would fall into place. He was an extremely gifted athlete, and we were just trying to make minor adjustments to his technique in order to maximize his speed.

You've talked before about maximizing his first five yards. What are some drills you do to do that?

Again, the first five yards all comes down to acceleration training. We had to get him comfortable being in positions that he was not used to being in. Maximizing his body lean, maximizing his force production into the ground, and making sure that he was applying that force into the ground in the proper direction. So much of acceleration is about a piston drive action, and if we can keep him in that piston drive mechanics over a longer period of time, he will be faster.

Since Sammy has been a track and field sprinter, how do you incorporate that into his workouts? How does it change his workouts?

When talking about making athletes faster, everything comes down into some form of a track workout. Track coaches are great technicians, and when you combine a genetically gifted athlete with the proper technique, the results can be astonishing. With Sammy having a track background, he was able to maximize the techniques very quickly.

What are some things you've done to improve Sammy's speed that maybe most people wouldn't expect?

We improved his core stability. When talking about improving speed, your core is critical to transferring force from the ground throughout your entire body. Take the example of a hammer and a nail. If you hit a nail with a hammer, the nail will go into a piece of wood. It transfers the force from the hammer through the nail and into the piece of wood. Now, if you hit a bent nail, the hammer will only bend the nail more, which makes the bent nail poor at transferring energy. The body is analogous to this example – if an athlete can apply force into the ground in the proper direction, and have a stable core to transfer that energy, then the force will be transferred throughout the entire core and body and give the athlete maximal energy transfer... making that athlete faster.

With full-body work, is it difficult to get younger athletes to have the same power proportioned equally on both sides of their body?

We evaluate all athletes when they come into the Compound to see what deficiencies their body has that may predispose them to injury or decreased performance. Single-leg strength activities are staples within our weight room programs in order to decrease compensation patterns the athlete may be using. The body is the master compensator; it will find a way to get done what you ask it to get done, regardless of the long-term cost. Our job is to find these compensations and maximize movement efficiency in order to maximize performance on the field, decrease injury potential, and increase career longevity.

What's Sammy's biggest strength as a sprinter?

So much of sprinting is genetics and technique. Having the right fiber type to maximize sprinting capabilities, and the technique to utilize your genetic potential is a great combination. Sammy was blessed with great genetics and we worked diligently on his technique. However, Sammy was also blessed with an amazing work ethic and attitude. He was like a sponge with the information that we gave him, and wanted to know how he could maximize his performance. There are no greater traits than work ethic and attitude to maximize speed. Speed is a skill, therefore, speed can be taught.

What type of stretching do you incorporate with him? How does that help his speed?

We used active dynamic stretching and active isolated stretching with Sammy. The dynamic warm-ups were pre-workout and the active isolated stretching was post-workout. Range of motion is critical to maximizing speed. Working through a full range of motion will allow us better recruitment of muscles, as well as maximizing stride length when sprinting.


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