Packers receiver Christian Watson believes he has discovered the root cause his soft-tissue leg injuries

GREEN BAY – When he breaks into the open field, Christian Watson doesn’t have time to consider how much stress he’s putting on his right leg, compared to his left.

He’s busy dodging tackles, trying to reach the end zone. Football is a game of split-second reactions, and few are better than Watson. He has the type of athleticism that stands out even on a field with other professional athletes. Almost nobody has his combination of size and speed.

Watson’s explosiveness is irrelevant if he can’t get off the sideline. A week after last season ended, he made a trek to Badger Athletic Performance in Madison, undergoing several hours of testing on his body. The hope was to unriddle how to keep the Green Bay Packers injury-prone receiver healthy.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson hopes he has discovered how to prevent his frequent hamstring problems.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson hopes he has discovered how to prevent his frequent hamstring problems.

Among the tests, Watson said, specialists determined he did not carry his strength symmetrically. His right leg was significantly weaker than his left.

“One, it puts strain on the left side,” Watson said. “The left is going through a lot more. Then, I mean, two, when you’re trying to be equal in power, it obviously puts a lot more stress on the one that’s not as strong.”

Watson’s disproportionate strength in his legs doesn’t pair well with a sport that requires equal stress on his limbs. He doesn’t know what his asymmetrical score was in Madison, but Watson said his left leg was 20% stronger than his right when he reported to the Green Bay Packers offseason program. He’s been working to even his strength distribution since then, testing his symmetry each week.

His score is down to about 12%, Watson said. Perfect symmetry is 0%, but also unlikely for anyone to attain. Watson hopes to be within 6% by the fall.

“That’s my favorite part of the week,” Watson said, “is going in there and getting to see knocking off 4, 5, 6% on that asymmetry every week.”

Watson has focused on evening the strength in his legs this offseason because he believes it’s essential to doing what’s eluded him so far in his career, staying healthy and on the field. At his best, Watson has the talent to be the top receiver at a loaded position in the Packers offense. He scored eight touchdowns in four games as a rookie. Expectations couldn’t have been higher for his sophomore encore in 2023.

Then he injured his right hamstring at the end of training camp, missing three games. He injured his right hamstring again in December against Kansas City, crumpling to the field untouched while trying to turn the corner on a jet sweep. He missed five more games. Watson barely was a factor after returning for the playoffs, catching two passes on three targets for 20 yards combined in a pair of games.

The injuries were on Watson’s weaker side. The side that takes more pounding. Watson’s solution to end the frequent soft-tissue injuries is to ensure both sides of his body contain equal strength.

“I feel like it’s pretty self-explanatory,” Watson said, “now that I’ve gone through it. But during the season, I’m trying to play football. So if I’m able to run and feel like I’m able to do what I can do, regardless of how one leg is feeling compared to the other, I’m going to go out there and try to play.

“For my safety, and obviously trying to eliminate risks, you want to try to get back as strong as you can before you get out there, or you have the risk of getting injured again.”

Watson suggested he’s returned from injury prematurely in the past, increasing the risk of re-injury. But he’s focused on strength distribution, hoping to avoid injuries. Watson hasn’t changed which lifts he does in the weight room, but his routine is different. He’s added single-leg lifts for his right leg, something he hadn’t done in the past.

His hope is the added focus on his right leg will allow it to catch up with his left.

“It’s just some of the training methods,” coach Matt LaFleur said, “and then him making sure that he’s doing all the little things when he’s away from here. I think he’s embraced that, and he’s been very disciplined in his approach. He is in a really good place right now.”

LaFleur stopped short of saying Watson’s trip to Madison this offseason solved how to keep Watson healthy. He knows the true test will come in camp and, especially, when the games start. The Packers are determined to keep their top receiver on the field. They sent their medical staff with Watson to Madison, ensuring everyone communicates on the same page.

Watson said the information he gained has helped him be more aware of how to condition his body.

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“I think just being conscious about it,” Watson said. “My ability to kind of know when maybe I’m feeling a little fatigued, maybe I need to tone it down a little bit today. I just need to be a little more conscious of my body and knowing where I’m at. I think I can get a handle of where I’m at, if it’s just fatigue or I need to tone it down a little bit, but obviously once you get the injury you’re right back to square one.

“So I think just being a little bit more conscious of it has been huge for me to know where I’m at and how I’m feeling.”

This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Packers Christian Watson believes he’s found cause of leg injuries