Benjamin Watson Making Progress After Achilles, But Not All the Way Back

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Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson made an 11-yard catch in the second quarter of Thursday's preseason game in Miami – seemingly just a blip in the game recap.

To Watson, however, the catch was a milestone.

It was the first reception Watson made in a game since Jan. 3, 2016, when he hauled in six catches for 59 yards and a touchdown as a member of the New Orleans Saints.

When he came into the locker room at halftime, Watson had a text message from his wife waiting.

"She told me that the kids were going crazy," he said. "It was a victory for all of us."

Watson missed all last season after he tore his Achilles in the Ravens' 2016 third preseason game. Now the 36-year-old veteran enters Saturday's preseason game against the Buffalo Bills – 364 days later – making progress but still trying to get all the way back.

"Coming up on about a year since surgery … and there's still more to get," Watson said. "But I'm satisfied with my progress; I think I'm coming along great and getting back to playing football."

Last year, former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. was in a similar position trying to return from a ruptured Achilles. Smith didn't play in the preseason, but made his debut in Week 1 to the tune of five catches.

Watson's on track to be in the Ravens' lineup when they kick off the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 10. The question is: at what level?

The Ravens could certainly use him considering they've had season-ending injuries to Dennis Pitta (hip) and Crockett Gillmore (knee), and Darren Waller is suspended for the year. That has left Watson, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams and Larry Donnell as the team's top tight ends.

Of the four, Watson holds the most potential as a playmaking pass catcher. In 2015, Watson set or tied career highs in catches (74), receiving yards (825) and touchdowns (six) in his last full season with the Saints. The Ravens would be ecstatic with similar* *production.

Watson has been gradually re-building his game. He first returned to the practice field during minicamp on a limited basis. He's increased his practice reps and is now full-go in training camp and the preseason, according to Head Coach John Harbaugh.

"He's done an excellent job of working hard to get himself to where he can perform," Harbaugh said. "I'm excited about Ben."

Despite being a month into training camp, Watson still stays after the veterans exit practice to catch extra throws from the team's quarterbacks. He's trying to work through some muscle imbalances he still has in his legs.

Just like Smith, Watson's calf muscle shrunk after the injury. He similarly calls it "baby calf."

"It's trying to gain weight. I moved it up to solid food now; it's off of the breast milk, growing up a little bit," Watson joked. "It's still a process. There's still a ways to go with the strength."

Watson has flashed at times during practices open to reporters, particularly in the red-zone, where the 6-foot-3, 251-pound target should be a major weapon.

Asked if he feels quicker now than he did at the start of training camp, Watson said, "definitely." But he added that he does feel some "deficiency" when he does certain movements.

"The great thing about the body is it's able to compensate, and it's able to maneuver," he said. "When something's not right, something else kicks in. I'm still going through a maintenance program."

Mentally, Watson also said he's made great strides. He's not thinking about the injury anymore, and his body is listening to his brain.

"A lot of football is reactionary. Being able to read a coverage on the fly and have your body do what your mind wants it to do, it takes some time to get back to that," Watson said. "But as I watch film, I still have a ways to go."

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