For all the missed games and litany of injuries in recent years, no one has ever seriously suggested Winnipeg Blue Bombers slotback Cory Watson is too "soft" to play pro football.
On the contrary, the rap on Watson, if there is one, is that maybe, just maybe, he plays too "hard" for his own good -- and, by extension, the good of his team.
"What I see is a guy who plays football the way it's meant to be played. He plays a hundred miles an hour every snap, on offence and special teams," Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea said Wednesday in reference to Watson.
"He's personally very hard on his body. He goes at it... And with that, there are ramifications to that, right?"
'What I see is a guy who plays football the way it's meant to be played. He plays a hundred miles an hour every snap, on offence and special teams'
Winnipeg fans know those ramifications only too well. Watson missed a total of 17 games with injury over the last two seasons -- nine last season and eight in 2012 -- and he had fans wondering whether it was déj vu all over again earlier this month when he went down with a hamstring injury on the very first day of training camp.
What was initially described by the coaching staff as a "short-term" injury ended up taking weeks to heal and caused Watson to miss Winnipeg's entire pre-season schedule before he finally returned to practice this week.
All of which leads one to wonder -- is Cory Watson doing something wrong systemically? Or has he just been really, really unlucky?
"It's football and injuries are going to happen in any sport," Watson, 30, insisted following practice at Investors Group Field.
"And if you play a certain way, certain things are going to happen. But hopefully you can prevent them as much as you can."
Watson made it through two days of practice this week without incident, so that's at least progress. But on a club desperately short on starters with Canadian passports, the Bombers cannot afford to be holding their breath this season every time Watson falls down.
What they need instead is for the Quebec native to return to the form he showed in his sophomore season.
That 2011 season -- 18 games played, 69 catches, 793 yards -- is still Watson's best of his four as a Bomber. But instead of being a breakout year for him professionally, that sophomore year fuelled high expectations Watson has never again reached.
So why is this year going to be different?
"I think I can do better than my second year," said Watson. "What happened that year is I took advantage of opportunities that came my way.
"And this year, I have a role that demands a lot. So I have to make sure I'm in there -- most important thing -- in order to make those plays happen."
Watson was asked if he might dial down the way he plays this season. While he says he remains committed to being an active player on the meat grinder that is special teams, he did seem to leave open the door for perhaps a change in his style of play on offence.
"Am I going to change the way I play? That's a good question," he said. "It's based on the situation. Second and one? Sometimes you have to dig your head down and get a first down. But then, sometimes you might as well go out of bounds and play the next down. So it depends on the situation."
O'Shea was asked if he is hesitant at all giving Watson such a big role on the Bombers in 2014, given the player's injury track record in recent years.
"To me, it's a clean slate," said O'Shea.
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