Turns out, reality exceeded expectations. Watkins rang up three big plays that shifted momentum in a 35-31 victory.
"Maybe I just need more predictions," Watkins said.
Having mostly survived since the Cowboys took him in the fifth round of the 2006 draft, Watkins entered training came in an unpredictable situation.
He was coming off an injury-plagued season. Nobody had to tell him that his job was in jeopardy. Dallas drafted three defensive backs - DeAngelo Smith, Michael Hamlin and Mike Mickens - and added free-agent safety Gerald Sensabaugh.
But when the Cowboys cut to 52 players on Saturday, Smith and Mickens were not included. Dallas picked up former Cincinnati safety Marvin White of TCU on Sunday. He will be behind Watkins on the depth chart for Sunday's opener at Tampa Bay.
With Hamlin out for up to six weeks with a broken wrist, Watkins played the entire game against the Vikings. His dominance sparked the Cowboys' comeback.
"Watkins had a really good game," owner Jerry Jones said. "He was called upon to start and look at the game he had."
Watkins made three big plays during a two-minute period at the end of the first half and the start of the second.
On fourth-and-goal with just under two minutes, he saved a touchdown, wrapping up Minnesota quarterback Sage Rosenfels on a naked bootleg. He blocked a 51-yard field goal attempt with nine seconds left in the half and then opened the third quarter with a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown.
"He accounted for 17 points, one way or the other," coach Wade Phillips said. "I thought he showed well."
Watkins has a penchant for big plays, which is what the Cowboys emphasized throughout training camp on defense and special teams. Only two teams had fewer interceptions last season than Dallas' eight.
Watkins has been strong on special teams. He led the team with 25 special teams tackles in 2007.
But he missed eight games last year because of injuries. He also was responsible for a costly penalty - too many men on the field - in the Washington loss.
"I had to make the transition from free to strong safety, and felt like I was lacking in the playbook," Watkins said. "I got with my coaches and studied the playbook even harder. I feel 10 times more comfortable than I did last year."
Watkins' survival plan is simple - keep making big plays.
"When you get injured, sometimes you've got to prove you're still a valuable player," Watkins said.
"Every chance I get I've been trying to prove myself. I love the game. And when you love the game it shows on the field."
JOIN Tim MacMahon for a live chat at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday on the Cowboys blog.