INDIANAPOLIS — The new-look Indianapolis Colts defense's 2017 regular-season debut just got a little tougher.
On Friday, the league was buzzing with news of a big-time trade, as the Los Angeles Rams acquired wide receiver Sammy Watkins and a 2018 sixth-round pick from the Buffalo Bills in exchange for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round pick.
The move gives the Rams a potentially explosive weapon for their up-and-coming offensive attack, something that will be on display Week 1 when they play host to the Colts.
"With Sammy, I think clearly you're getting a special receiver," first-year Rams head coach Sean McVay said, via TheRams.com. "Obviously, his career when he's been available, he's been outstanding in terms of being able to stretch the field vertically, but when the balls in his hands, good things happen. We feel like he's going to be a good addition to our offense."
He was viewed as a can't-miss prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft, and became the fourth-overall pick by Buffalo, and was productive from the get-go, averaging 62 catches for 1,014 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014 and 2015. But last season, Watkins missed half the season with a foot injury, and he headed into this preseason having underwent offseason surgery heading into a contract year.
The 24-year-old caught four passes for 39 yards on Thursday for the Bills in their preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings, giving Rams general manager Les Snead enough confidence to believe Watkins would be healthy enough to be worth his eventual price tag.
The Rams were already heading into the 2017 season with high hopes of improving their offense, adding McVay, an offensive-minded coach who helped turn the Washington Redskins into one of the elite units in the league in recent years, to guide a group that will include the likes of Robert Woods, Tavon Austin, Cooper Kupp and Pharoh Cooper at the wide receiver position, and, of course, Todd Gurley at running back.
Adding a bonafide No. 1-caliber wide receiver to the mix obviously adds more optimism to that unit.
"I think that you can't find enough spots for good football players and that's what we're getting in Sammy Watkins," McVay said. "That's our job as coaches, is to do a good job of putting these guys in good situations, finding a way to develop an offense that's conducive for our players skillsets. When you add a player like that, those are the types of players that make coaches look good because he's been so successful throughout the course of his career."
The Colts can claim they're in the same boat as the Rams' offense, only on the defensive side of the ball.
New general manager Chris Ballard came in and immediately addressed the team's defense this offseason, adding younger, emerging pieces at each spot through a bountiful free agency period, as well as via the draft.
That Week 1 matchup against the Rams will be the Indy defense's first official chance to begin establishing its new identity, and on Friday that task got much tougher.
But head coach Chuck Pagano said he likes what he's seen so far from his defense, and while there's still plenty of work ahead of the unit to get where it wants to be, the goals from week to week — regardless of the opponent — are the same.
"We're always going to set lofty goals for ourselves – everybody does it," Pagano told reporters on Friday. "We've got a bunch of guys in that room who are determined and driven to be better. We'll play better defense. We made some upgrades, we got some good people in there and we want to be a top-10 defense. We are not going to shy away from that."*
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