Inside The Bills

Fan Friday 8-15

Posted by Chris Brown on August 15, 2014 – 5:07 pm

Ok fans an important week for the Bills is in the books. The passing game really took a step forward this week in Latrobe. Let’s hope it carries into the game Saturday night against the Steelers. In the meantime let’s get to your latest round of questions from email at AskChris@bills.nfl.net and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills

1 – Hi Chris,

Long time reader of your articles – including your Fan Friday.

I’ve noticed EJ and Woods are playing with visors in camp. Is this new and can we expect them to wear them in the regular season? To me, it makes a lot of sense for EJ – as it shadows the ability for the defence to see where he’s going to throw too or what he’s looking at. Is that the intention here? What scope do you have on this? Overall, I think they look fierce. But I highly doubt that’s the reasoning behind wearing them…

Thanks,
Mike Barwick

CB: Yes, they and a handful of other players wear visors. Some are shaded and some are clear. The shaded ones are designed to act like sunglasses in most cases. For receivers that’s important when they’re looking up for a ball, not unlike an outfielder in baseball. It helps keep them from losing a ball in the sun. Whether EJ’s primary purpose is the same I don’t know, but I’ll ask him. The other reason for the visors is to keep from getting poked in the eye, which is something that could happen to Manuel if a pass rusher is reaching out to block a pass, misses and connects with the helmet.
2 – Hey Chris,

I am very excited for the 2014 season, looking at the roster it seems a lot of the decisions made on the draft and free agency the last three years we’re really good ones. The depth is so good this year I haven’t heard too much about Ron Brooks.  I really like watching Ron Brooks I know he has had some injuries but where do you think he stands with the team? Do you think we will see him playing corner this season or just as a special teams player? Always appreciate your time.

Alexander Albanese
Toronto

CB: Brooks has had a pretty solid camp. He’s been afforded the opportunity of getting a ton of reps due to the limited participation of starting corners Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore who are both coming off offseason surgeries. He’s been running opposite Corey Graham in training camp at cornerback with the first team defense.

Brooks has performed well, but at times still has trouble with the bigger wideouts due mainly to his stature. He’s got great catch up speed and is sudden in his breaks on the ball. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz likes him so I anticipate him being one of the top five corners on the roster. How many they keep is the bigger question.
3 – Chris,

I couldn’t help notice the pass rush has been extremely productive in the spring and training camp. My question is do you feel that’s due to the talent of the DE’s or is it a product of inconsistency on the offensive line with Glenn being out and other shuffling that’s been going on. Appreciate the training camp coverage and can’t wait for the season. Also one more thing, is there a schedule that lists which practices are full contact?

Dan T.
Western MA

CB: It’s a bit of both. Jerry Hughes might be the most impressive of the front four when it comes to pass rush consistency. Of course that’s been helped by the fact that rookie Seantrel Henderson has been manning the starting left tackle role in Cordy Glenn’s absence. But make no mistake that group is pretty special.

Unfortunately no we don’t have a schedule for the public that lists full pads, shells or shorts and helmets. Typically once the preseason games start however, full pads practices are earlier in the week.

 

4 – Hey Chris,

Jerry Hughes had a tremendous season last year rushing the passer and it’s clear that Doug Whaley pioneered an amazing trade to get him when the Indianapolis Colts were looking to go in a different direction. And if Training Camp is any indication, it sounds like we can expect a similar season this year. Through listening to a lot of people on the radio and around town locally, it seems that Jerry Hughes will not be able to be re-signed if he has another great year– almost as if it’s a foregone conclusion that they cannot keep a stout DE since he’ll be too pricey.

In my opinion, if you run a base 4-3, having a Mario Williams AND Jerry Hughes-caliber player would be extremely important (SEE Freeney and Mathis, Strahan and Umenyiora). I think they should find a way to pay him if he’s anything like last year’s player. An annoying thing of being a Bills fan is seeing the Bills actually draft great talent, develop it, and watch it walk away. And in this case, the Bills didn’t even have to draft him to get it. What are your thoughts?

Also, have you tried a garbage plate since being in Rochester? It probably goes outside the exercise regimen, but you gotta treat yourself to the finer local delicacies.

-Nate in Rochester
PS- Go Bills!
CB: In a perfect world yes they would be able to keep Jerry Hughes long term, but it’s a question of balance. Obviously the Bills would love to keep Hughes, but you have to look at the money invested on the rest of the defensive line.

The three highest cap figures on the entire team are the other three defensive linemen that Hughes lines up with. Mario Williams ($18.8M), Marcell Dareus ($6.49M) and Kyle Williams ($6.25M).

In 2015 those cap numbers go to $19M (Mario), $8.06M (Dareus) and $5.85M (Kyle). That’s a total of $32M for three members of the defensive line. If Hughes has another 10-sack season or more he’s likely to be asking for top 15 perhaps top 10 defensive end money.

Top 15 would put him somewhere between $6.5-$8M per season while top 10 would have him north of $8.5M per season.

I’m not saying the Bills won’t try to do it. It’s not my decision as to how the Bills choose to spend their money. I just know that investing that much of your cap dollars in one facet of your team is not a common practice.

All that being said there have been reports citing sources close to the process of setting the salary cap for the NFL that the cap, which went up a surprising $10M this past year to $133M could move as high as $145M in 2015. Would that extra cap space be enough to make the fourth major investment in the team’s defensive line? I’m not sure it is.

With respect to your garbage plate suggestion, I’m familiar with it having gone to college at SUNY Geneseo. In fact I won a bet by eating two in one sitting. Almost didn’t hold them down, but got through it.
5 – Do you see a scenario where Spiller is traded this year?  I’ve heard rumors, and with the Jackson extension, Brown trade, Dixon signing, and no first round pick it seems like an possible and unfortunate rumor…am I crazy for thinking this or can they keep all four running backs?

Sean from So Cal
P.S. See you in Chicago week 1!

CB: I’m sure you saw GM Doug Whaley dispel those rumors this week. First, Whaley said that he has not been contacted by any team expressing interest in C.J. Spiller. He later followed that up with Channel 7’s Jeff Russo in an interview later in the week where he said he has not reached out to any other team himself about C.J. Spiller.

As Whaley said himself he understands with all the talent in the Bills backfield why people are trying to connect the dots. I just think with the team in ‘win now’ mode it would be highly unlikely that they would trade one of their best playmaking assets on offense in Spiller.


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Whaley dispels Spiller trade rumors

Posted by Chris Brown on August 13, 2014 – 5:06 pm

Bills GM Doug Whaley was asked about trade rumors concerning C.J. Spiller. Whaley indicated that there has been no contact with other teams about Spiller.

“We have not been contacted by any team about CJ Spiller,” said Whaley. “These rumors are news to me. It’s exciting I guess to you guys because it gives you something to fill the newspaper with.

“Again, no one, I’ll tell you guys and you know I’m a straight shooter. We have not been contacted by any teams. I can probably see where people see our depth at running back and try to connect the dots with teams that don’t have depth, but, again, nobody has contacted us.”

Spiller is entering the last year of his contract with Buffalo.


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Fan Friday 8-8

Posted by Chris Brown on August 8, 2014 – 12:02 pm

Hey Bills fans. My apologies for the brief hiatus that Fan Friday took the past two weeks, but we’re back. So keep firing off your questions on email to AskChris@bills.nfl.net and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills

Here’s the latest edition of your questions.

1 - Chris,
Thanks for the piece on Jeff.  I was wondering how he was progressing.
He impressed me at the SJF scrimmage last year.  Seemed to get the ball out quickly and made good decisions.
He reminds of Alex Van Pelt but a better athlete.  He impressed again against KC until the pick 6.  He appears to be the fastest and most elusive QB on his feet.  Finally, the Bills protected him all last year with a roster spot so they saw something they liked.
What if he outplays EJ in the preseason again?

Thanks for the good work.

Dan Malwitz
Orchard Park

CB: Tuel has looked good in training camp, picking up where he left off in the spring minicamp. His first preseason game performance was also encouraging. This past week in practice leading up to tonight’s game Tuel gave way to Thad Lewis for second team offense reps. I expect Lewis to be in the backup quarterback role tonight against the Carolina Panthers.

As good as Tuel has looked this competition is a marathon not a sprint. We’ll need to see how Lewis fares tonight with the second unit. Through the first three weeks of training camp practices, Tuel has been the more consistent performer and the better decision maker. But there are still almost three weeks of camp left so there is a lot of time for things to change.

As for Tuel’s chances of unseating EJ Manuel, it simply won’t happen. This organization has put all their eggs in the Manuel basket to lift the offense to new heights. Tuel, or Lewis for that matter, will only take the field in the regular season if Manuel is injured and cannot play. Priority number one is getting Manuel ready to lead the offense this fall.

 

2 – Dear Chris,

I do believe our receivers are some of the most diverse in the NFL. We have Sammy who is very versatile and I think is worth what we gave up in the future for him. We have Mike Williams who we traded for from the Bucs for a late round pick who can be very reliable in the end zone. We also have the help from Robert Woods in the slot who can be a reliable replacement for Steve Johnson. Then we have Marquise Goodwin who is somebody who can break the top off the roof with his lighting fast speed. To top it off we have Marques Easley who helps big time on special teams. The question I have is how do you think Coach Marrone is going to incorporate all these wide receivers to make a winning group who can help Manuel exceed to be the franchise QB I believe he can be?
Thanks,
Bill

CB: I think your description of diverse is very accurate. I believe it’s what GM Doug Whaley had in mind in changing some of the pieces. He got two boundary receivers in Mike Williams and Sammy Watkins, who have large catch radiuses to pull in passes that may not be right on the money. Watkins and Williams are also experts at winning jump balls. Robert Woods and Chris Hogan are both good separation receivers, who can get yards after the catch. Goodwin and Graham offer deep speed to stretch a defense and you’ve already mentioned Marcus Easley’s strengths.

All of that talent is on the roster to provide Manuel with the confidence to let it fly and trust his playmakers. Williams and Watkins are capable of making plays even when they’re covered. Woods and Hogan have a high percentage of route wins meaning they’re usually open for Manuel to make use of and Goodwin and Graham are always threats to get behind a defense.

The bottom line however, is it’s on Manuel to make them successful because no matter how effective any of the receivers are at winning their matchups, those wins do not add up to anything if Manuel doesn’t target them and make the right decisions. The success of the receiving corps is ultimately dependent on Manuel’s on field decision making and accuracy.

 

3 – Hi Chris,

Thanks continuing to answer questions concerning the Bills. Many fans including myself really enjoy seeing your answers to what sometimes are very difficult questions. This question may qualify as a difficult one.

With 4 running backs on the team, what’s chances someone gets traded?

Thanks,
Bob Hammond
CB: Appreciate the kind words. As for the running backs on Buffalo’s roster, the natural speculation is that the staff will not keep all four on the squad when the roster is reduced to 53. I think what most casual observers are not considering are two important factors.

First, this team ran the football more than any other NFL club in the league last season. That heavy workload was part of the reason both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller succumbed to lingering injuries that compromised their effectiveness in 2013.

The front office and coaching staff made a conscious decision to fortify their running back stable in the offseason so in the event that injuries crop up again this season there will be little to no drop off in their rushing attack. Bryce Brown and ‘Boobie’ Dixon provide such depth.

Barring a catastrophic injury situation at another position that could require them to move one of their running back assets to fill a void via trade, I believe all four will be on the roster come September because at its core this offense will be defined by their run game.

And teams that are run heavy are quickly realizing that if one of your top two backs goes down to injury the identity of your offense will be dramatically impacted. Having these four backs protects against such a setback.

 

4 – Chris,

A – With the signing of Anthony Dixon and his power and size as RB, does that pose a threat to the FB position and the job of Frank Summers?
B – At this point who is considered the 1st Backup Center to Eric Wood?
C – Has it been disclosed by the team as to the health issue Chris Hairston had?  Can he play both guard and tackle positions which would drastically improve his chances of making the roster?

-Joe

CB: I think Dixon is a lock to make the roster, and if the numbers do not allow for a true fullback in Frank Summers, then yes it’s likely that Dixon would serve in the fullback role when such play calls on offense require one.

Backup center to Eric Wood is Doug Legursky at this point.

Chris Hairston medical situation from last season has not been revealed due to HIPAA laws. It is only up to Hairston as to whether or not he wants to make his condition, which is he over now, to be disclosed. As has been seen in training camp, he’s been lined up at both guard and tackle, with tackle being his most recent position. That is where he feels most comfortable since guard is new to him. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares tonight with the expectation that he’ll line up as the second team left tackle.

 

5 – Hi Chris,
As always, thank you so much for all of your excellent work. The opportunity for Bills fans to stay informed from afar is just excellent. I want to begin by saying I have all the faith in Jim Schwartz and the Bills defensive personnel, but I would like your insight on something. I understand that the exotic blitz packages of the Pettine era will not continue and that there needs to be a balance. We clearly weren’t where we needed to be against the run nor on third down efficiency. In the July 4th Fan Friday you mentioned that you would trade 10 sacks for the top 3rd down defense and top 10 run defense. I completely agree, but what I haven’t heard mentioned by anyone is how that would affect our secondary.

I was very impressed with the play of our secondary, even without Jairus Byrd, and especially by the number of turnovers they generated. My question is, by reducing the QB pressure, don’t we sacrifice more than just the sacks? I worry that we open ourselves up for more deep plays from the opponents passing game. I believe there is a perfect balance in there somewhere and I truly believe Jim Schwartz is deserving of the respect he is given around the league, I am just curious to hear your thoughts on the issue.
Thank you,
Cory in VA

CB: The only point I was trying to make was I would rather have more balanced production defensively across the board. I didn’t mean to infer that 10 fewer sacks would need to happen to have a better run defense or better third down defense. What encourages me is Jim Schwartz strives to have across the board production with his defense. And I don’t believe that you have to sacrifice sacks to be better in those other areas.

Schwartz has been a successful DC because he has found that perfect balance in his career as a defensive play caller. It’s my belief that he’ll be able to do that here perhaps more than anywhere else he has coached in his career. The main reason why is because this is the most talented secondary he has ever had in his career as a defensive coordinator.

When you have a secondary capable of man coverage it helps the pass rush and when you have a front four that can generate effective pressure it allows you to drop seven into coverage. Schwartz will take those two advantages and creatively use play calling to keep opposing offenses guessing.


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Spiller: Offense must improve in same areas

Posted by Chris Brown on August 8, 2014 – 9:12 am

There have been a couple of persistent problems when it comes to Buffalo’s offensive execution the last few years. Third down conversions and red zone scoring efficiency. Last season the Bills finished 29th in both categories. C.J. Spiller said the two areas have been a primary focus this offseason.

“We know where we want to go as an offense, we know the things we want to get better at,” Spiller said. “It’s just things that hurt us last year that we’re trying to work on like third down, the red zone and two minutes. There’s different situations we’re trying to get better at as an offense and we understand that.”

On Friday night the Bills will be facing a Carolina defense that ranked 12th in third down defense and third in the NFL in red zone defense allowing opponents to reach the end zone just over 41 percent of the time (41.5%).


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Spiller addresses future

Posted by Chris Brown on August 5, 2014 – 11:13 pm

Bills RB C.J. Spiller, who is entering the final year of his contract, had to answer questions about his future from the media following Tuesday night’s practice. Spiller’s stance has remained the same throughout and it was no different Tuesday.

“I’m under contract. I knew that was going to come up,” said Spiller. “I don’t really pay any attention to that. I’m a Buffalo Bill through and through. I love this place, this organization loves me. I’m here until further notice.”

When asked if he’s frustrated that he has to address his future in the wake of certain reports, Spiller understands it’s part of being an NFL player.

“It’s just one of those things. I’ve had some good conversations with Russ Brandon and Doug Whaley. One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t believe everything out there and I don’t,” he said. “I don’t pay any attention to that, the only time I hear about it is from one of my family members or one of my friends. I’m not going out there seeking it, trying to find it. I love this place, I love being here in Buffalo, I love the people. Just to see the reception that Andre Reed got at the Hall of Fame, that’s the only thing I’m worried about, coming out here and getting ready with my teammates, getting ready for September 7th against the Chicago Bears.”


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Dixon eager to build trust with new teammates

Posted by Chris Brown on August 3, 2014 – 10:52 am

RB “Boobie” Dixon will be playing in his first game tonight as a Bill and though he’s done a lot in the offseason to show teammates how hard he’s willing to work to help the team succeed, he knows tonight’s preseason opener is where he can most effectively get his new teammates to trust him.

“That’s very important and I feel like it’s very important that I’m willing to fight for them and the organization no matter who we go up against because I’m new,” Dixon told Buffalobills.com. “We’re all working on building that trust with each other for when things gets hard so it’s step one.”

Dixon hopes their run game can set a tone tonight against the Giants, and for the hard hitting Dixon it’s more than just a preseason game.

“You’ve got to go out there and set the tempo and take it to them,” he said. “It’s not just a game to me, it’s a fight and that’s what I’m planning to do and turn it into a brawl.”

Dixon is expected to get a lot of work tonight after abbreviated appearances by Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.


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Wood, C.J. not worried

Posted by Chris Brown on July 26, 2014 – 10:25 pm

Much has been made of the offensive execution in practice through the first week of training camp. The players themselves admit they’ve got to do better. At the same time they feel there’s enough time to get everything running like well-oiled machine come September.

“No it’s not a concern,” said C.J. Spiller. “We’re not even in August yet, but we have to get better. We understand that we have to be better as a unit.  We got the guys, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Third down, which has just undergone a good deal of installation on both sides of the ball, is where some of the execution problems lie according to Eric Wood. That’s when Buffalo’s vaunted pass rush, which set a franchise record with 57 sacks last season, can turn it loose.

“We understand that if we can block our front four then we’ll be able block about anybody,” said Eric Wood. “For my money, I think they’re about the best in the league, but that’s no excuse.  We got to be able to do our jobs and we got to do a better job.”


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C.J. on importance of run game

Posted by Chris Brown on July 22, 2014 – 2:49 pm

The run game was Buffalo’s bread and butter on offense as they ran more than any other team in the league and finished second in rushing yards per game. Blessed with the additional talents of Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon, the Bills ground attack is as deep as it’s ever been. So just how critical will the Bills run game be to the team’s success this season. C.J. Spiller had an answer for that one.

In an appearance on NFL AM on NFL Network Tuesday, Spiller believes the run game will again be carrying the offense in 2014.

“I think it’s going to be very important,” said Spiller. “I think it’s going to take a lot of pressure off E.J. [Manuel]. I think if we have our running game going, he’ll feel more comfortable relying on that. Instead of having him, going out there saying, ‘Hey E.J., we need you to throw the ball.’ It’s going to be very important to make sure that our running game is going on early and late in the season. It’s going to be exciting. The offensive line is going to jell together and hopefully we’ll have another great rushing year.”


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Spiller on change needed for division games

Posted by Chris Brown on July 22, 2014 – 2:46 pm

The Bills have found it hard to compete for a division title in the AFC East as New England has largely ruled the division for the better part of the last dozen years. Buffalo usually plays all their division opponents tough, until some unfortunate play happens and the floodgates seem to open. C.J. Spiller knows what has to change to reverse that trend.

In an appearance on NFL AM on NFL Network this morning, Spiller addressed what the Bills need to do to truly contend in the AFC East.

“If you go back and look at those games, we always play all those teams close,” Spiller said. “Obviously, sooner or later, [they] kind-of get out of hand. Against those type of teams, you can’t make mistakes. That’s the thing that’s been killing us against [those] teams is that we make mistakes and it’s hard for us to bounce back. So if we can minimize them, I think we have a chance of competing as one of the top [teams] in the AFC. I’m looking forward to it. Still a lot of work needs to be done. We still have to go out there and play the games.”


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Why C.J.’s 2013 injury hurt his game so much

Posted by Chris Brown on July 16, 2014 – 9:39 am

Last season when C.J. Spiller played his way through a very painful high ankle sprain, some outside observers couldn’t understand why his game was so negatively impacted when other backs in the league in recent years didn’t struggle as much to maintain their productivity. Spiller explained why a high ankle sprain is probably the worst possible injury for his unique skill set.

“A lot of people were saying that I didn’t have the year that I had in 2012, but to me playing on one wheel – especially the way I do it,” said Spiller. “If I was more of a power back it would’ve been a different deal, but with my ability to cut and accelerate I need both of my wheels healthy. Unfortunately I had one down, but to still get close to 1,000 (yards) – talking to Coach (Buddy) Nix we both agreed that it was a pretty good year playing on one wheel for the whole year that was tough to do and very painful, but I don’t worry about that. I know when I’m fully healthy the kind of player I can be.”

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett agreed.

“It’s funny, he didn’t have that bad of a year last year and he missed out on a game and was hindered by that, and he still had over 900-yards (rushing),” Hackett said. “I think with him being healthy and him being more familiar with the system, what we’re asking him to do, he’s going to be more and more comfortable just like the other guys will be.

We covered Spiller’s health and some other factors in examining whether he’ll be able to return to Pro Bowl form this fall in our Camp Countdown.


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Spiller senses big jump for run game in year 2

Posted by Chris Brown on July 14, 2014 – 9:38 am

In our Camp Countdown on Buffalobills.com we profiled how offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett will take advantage of the team’s running back depth with Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon now lined up behind Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller on the depth chart. Spiller senses that after a year of experience in the system for most of the offensive unit that season two under Hackett will lead to even more production in the run game.

“For us to be second in the league in rushing with a new system and us trying to get comfortable with what was going on –  Now we have that year up under us and you can see the difference,” said Spiller. “Everybody is confident in what we’re doing and hopefully that will bring better things. But there’s a ton of work to be done before September 7th against the Bears. We’ve got to be willing to put in all the hard work necessary to put ourselves in the best situation to win.”

Buffalo averaged over 144 yards on the ground a game last season and that was without a lot of passing success as the offense was 28th in that category. So even when opposing defenses largely knew what was coming the Bills were still pretty productive running the ball.

What is most encouraging from the standpoint of Spiller is how he’ll fare in the offense in his second season running it. Some might recall that in his first season under Chan Gailey as a starter (2011) Spiller struggled at times to be productive. Then in his second season he had a breakout season. The dynamic Pro Bowl back is now in a similar situation going into his second year in Nathaniel Hackett’s system. One wonders if similar production to that of 2012 is on the horizon this fall.


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Fan Friday 6-27

Posted by Chris Brown on June 27, 2014 – 11:42 am

We’re in the quiet period of the offseason, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues about the team to discuss. Here now are your latest questions from email at AskChris@bills.nfl.net and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills.

1 - Hey Chris,
My question is about the defense and new DC Jim Schwartz.  I know Marrone has said that they will keep the terminology the same for the players, but what does that exactly mean?  I know Schwartz and Pettine have different philosophies but do you foresee Schwartz maybe trying to become more innovative with his D?  In my opinion I think that Rex Ryan and Mike Pettines defense is spreading into the league and can be a new look for NFL defenses.  I know the Chiefs acquired Bob Sutton who has a Jets backround and the Saints have Rob Ryan.   I really like the way Pettine disguised plays and also the way he looked for players that can be versatile.  It just seems like it’s a defense that is spreading into the league and it is very aggressive style, something that needs to match the explosive offenses that are continuing to evolve.  So I guess my question is do you think that Schwartz watched film and talked with Marrone about keeping some of the same looks and ideas that Pettine installed last year and maybe just putting his flavor on it?  What are your thoughts about it?

Thanks, Jillian

CB: I think coaches inherently trust the elements of their schemes that made them successful coordinators or coaches in this league. Jim Schwartz was a coveted head coaching candidates a half dozen years ago because of the way he ran his defense. It’s a scheme that has a long running track of success on third down and against the run, two of the chief problem areas for Buffalo’s defense.

In speaking with Schwartz on a couple of occasions it’s my belief that he’s been in the league long enough to know that you have to adapt to changing trends in the NFL or you’ll be left behind. I do believe some of his defensive scheme has adopted some of the language from Pettine’s scheme for the sake of continuity, but Schwartz believes in his system and he should. The Lions finished sixth against the run and first in third down defense last season.

So while I think there is a healthy respect for the schemes run by Pettine and the Ryans, there are other ways to be successful on the defensive side of the ball. Knowing Schwartz’s scheme is likely to address the two most glaring problems of Buffalo’s defense leaves me feeling encouraged that the team’s new defensive coordinator will have the right answers, they may just be different from what you witnessed here last season.

 

2 -  Hey Chris,

I love your work.  Everyday I look forward to the latest Bills news.  Thanks for keeping us updated.  Living in Dallas, all I get is Dallas Cowboys news.

Here is my question for you, “Can you give any insight on exactly what and how players are graded during the OTA practices?”

Thanks
Shawn Sieracki
Dallas, Texas
CB: Happy to help Shawn and thanks for the compliments. I’m going to turn this one over to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who I believe effectively explained what’s evaluated in the spring practices when there are no pads.

“The only thing we’re really evaluating with players now is their ability to grasp scheme and things like that,” said Schwartz. “The stuff that you’re seeing on the practice field, we’re not judging players on how they finish plays.  It’s a non competitive situation.  We want to learn, we want to learn their role in the defense.  We want to learn how everything fits together, and they are being judged on that and their work ethic.  But the on field stuff, it’s all about technique right now.  When we get to training camp, we’ll start judging them more on wins and losses.  Wins-whether it comes to a coverage or a pass rush or things like that—you have to be careful about judging too much on that stuff out there.  It’s non-contact; it’s not really football.”
3 - Chris

Thanks for your coverage of the Bills.  Is Buddy Nix still affiliated with the Bills? What is his role and did he have any input in the recent draft?

Regards,
Ron Jacobs

CB: Yes, Buddy is still affiliated with the Bills. He no longer works in the office, but is a special assistant to the personnel department. I know that GM Doug Whaley called on him a few times in the pre-draft process to scout a few prospects near his region where he lives in Tennessee.

He was also present in the draft room for all three days of the 2014 draft, sitting in the first row. Having been in the draft room for the whole weekend, Doug Whaley and Russ Brandon went to speak to him on about a dozen occasions.

Many of them appeared to deal with the conversations that Whaley and Brandon had with other NFL clubs concerning trade talks, and as you know Whaley made a handful on draft weekend. It’s clear to me that Nix is still a respected veteran voice in Buffalo’s personnel department.

 

4 – Chris,
Given the new additions on offense do you see the Bills being run heavy or pass heavy? With Dixon and Brown there won’t be enough carries to go around. Getting 4 RB’s the ball seems like a tough task. Given the league is pass heavy and Watkins is in the fold how is the ball going to go around. It’s a pass heavy league and EJ will need to throw 300 yards often. How do you see this shaking out?

CB: Here are the things you need to consider when weighing this question. Will the Bills simply have EJ Manuel carry the offense and throw it all over the field? It’s unlikely. Doug Marrone is a head coach who believes in a run game. Unless he’s got an all-world quarterback that will be his approach. The only difference is Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett will run it at a pace that no one can keep up with.

The pace of the offense last season was compromised by inexperience when injuries struck at quarterback and a new signal caller was starting seemingly every week. All three quarterbacks are a year invested in the system so that is no longer an issue.

So provided they gain the yardage they believe they on the ground consistently, it’ll translate into more first downs, more plays, more yardage and ultimately more points. With more plays there are more carries to go around.

Running as much as Buffalo did last season (they had more total rushes than any team in the NFL in 2013) they’d like to run more this year, as they only ran the ball 48 percent of the time. Keeping the injury factor in mind (See: C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson in 2013), Buffalo now has the depth at running back to carry on should one or two of their backs suffer injuries.

The offensive line has also been beefed up with size and strength not only among the starting unit (Chris Williams), but among the reserves (Seantrel Henderson, Cyril Richardson, Chris Hairston, Cyrus Kouandjio). Pass protection is part of it knowing the Bills gave up the fourth-most (48) in the league last year, but it’s about being able to run the ball even when the opponent knows it’s coming.

C.J. and Fred will be the principal players in the run game, but Spiller and Jackson are both versatile talents and will be utilized in the passing game as well. With the depth at running back as well it wouldn’t surprise me if there are multiple backs on the field at the same time.

Hackett always talks about putting the five best skill position players on the field with the five linemen and the QB. One would think that Spiller and Jackson more often than not would be among that group with Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon not far behind.

 

5 - @ChrisBrownBills

What is the competition for RT looking like right now between Pears and Cyrus?#bills

Z_bass10

CB: It’s hard to really make a call on it before the pads are on in training camp. I will say that early in the OTAs, the coaches rotated Kouandjio in with the first unit for a bit less than half the snaps. By the close of OTAs, Kouandjio spent most of his time with the second unit outside of a day when he spent a practice at left tackle due to a lack of numbers on hand.

Kouandjio has to adjust to the speed of NFL pass rushers. He found going against the likes of Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes challenging as you might understand. Pears held his own in the spring practice setting.

For me it’s a competition that’s going to have to wait until St. John Fisher when the pads are on and perhaps well into the preseason.


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Posted in Inside the Bills

C.J. listed among most unstoppable

Posted by Chris Brown on June 23, 2014 – 10:09 am

Bills RB C.J. Spiller looked like his game breaking, elusive self in OTAs and minicamp this spring. Back fully healthy Spiller is again poised to be a difference making talent for Buffalo in 2014. And NFL.com’s Gil Brandt is taking notice.

Brandt listed Spiller as one of his 11 unstoppable talents in the league, which included just five running backs. Here’s what he wrote about Spiller.

C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills

Spiller has moves (23 missed tackles in 2013). Given his exceptional vision and explosiveness — the latter of which is reminiscent of Marshall Faulk in his prime — he’s a special talent as a runner and a receiver. Though he only logged 15-plus carries in six games last season, Spiller still managed to get within 67 yards of the 1,000-yard mark, bolstered by four runs of 40 yards or more. Significant lateral quickness makes him very difficult to bring down.


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Fan Friday 6-20

Posted by Chris Brown on June 20, 2014 – 2:39 pm

Spring practices are over and there’s just a month to go before training camp opens. Here now are your latest questions from email at AskChris@bills.nfl.net and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills.

1 - @ChrisBrownBills

What do you think about Buffalo going after Jason Babin possibly? They did show interest in 2012 #LetsGoBuffalo

TheGoodfella28

CB: While their depth at defensive end is not ideal I don’t know that they could make that kind of a veteran investment in the position. Buffalo has a lot of money tied up in their defensive line and adding another player who would not come cheap might be a bit unrealistic.

 

2 – Hey Chris,

Thanks for the great coverage this off-season. I always look forward to Fan Friday. My question is in regards to the #3 QB spot. What have Jeff Tuel and Dennis Dixon been up to this off-season? Tuel showed a lot of promise last preseason but, clearly wasn’t ready when thrust into the spotlight. I still hold out hope for him. Living in Western Pa. I got to see Dixon play some as a Steeler. The guy has a motor for sure. Do you think Tuel’s spot is safe or does Dixon have a legit chance to overtake him? Maybe try to stash Tuel on the PS?
Thanks again, I look forward to your insight on this.

Scott

CB: I’ll have a story up on Buffalobills.com Saturday morning on Jeff Tuel. In my opinion he’s raised his game a peg or two. It’s clear to me he worked on his body in the offseason. He’s leaner and looks quicker on read option play keepers. Where he’s raised his game the most is his decisiveness in the pocket. He senses pressure and knows when to step up and he has shown a willingness to stick the ball into tight windows to make plays. There were times during the OTAs where he had the most impressive looking throws of the day.

I think he’s not only got a lock on the number three job going into camp, I believe he will provide healthy competition to Thad Lewis for the backup job.

 

3 – Hi Chris,

The recent comparison you made between Moeaki and Gragg today was interesting.

Gragg ran a 4.35 shuttle at pro day. Athletically Gragg seems superior in just about every test if you now include the pro day shuttle in his draft class and with Moeaki. Sub 4.5 40 at 244, 37.5 vertical, 4.35 shuttle…. great results.

However, Moeaki comments are encouraging. From a test comparison, the statement that Moeaki is the most athletic is surprising. Would be interesting to see a square out drill with both of them to see how they do. Shuttle or 3 cone is about closest to that.

Thanks
Mike

CB: I’m not sure there’s a question here, but I can tell you while Gragg is better on the stopwatch when it comes to football Moeaki is the smoother route runner. He transitions better from catch to turning up field. He also adjusts to the ball more effectively when it’s not on target.

That’s not a knock on Gragg, who is an athlete, but Moeaki’s body type, which isn’t as long-limbed as Gragg lends itself to being a more fluid athlete.

 
4 – Chris,

Thanks for all of the great reporting for “Bills Nation” out here in southern Nevada. Observations from OTA’s have indicated that E.J. is experiencing the same footwork and inaccuracy issues that have plagued him throughout his career. I believe he has had his own personal quarterbacks coach for a number of years. Why would he hire an offseason coach/mentor that has not been able to correct these problems?

Hank K.

CB: Thanks for the kind words. During OTAs EJ and the receivers were still working on getting their footwork lined up. With the precision needed in this passing game under coach Hackett, the quarterback’s footwork has to be in lockstep with that of the receivers. I intend to ask coach Hackett how much margin for error there is with that approach, but watching it on the field there doesn’t appear to be much. Unfortunately that’s how fine you have to cut things to be consistently successful in the NFL Sunday after Sunday.

In spring practices with new receiving targets on the field (Watkins, M. Williams, Moeaki) there’s going to be an adjustment period and I think we witnessed that in the OTAs. In minicamp the precision was improving. Hopefully that continues going into camp.

And to be clear it’s not a technique thing with EJ as much as it is a timing thing concerning the footwork. Yes, occasionally Manuel’s footwork will suffer in a pressure situation as it would for any QB, but on the whole the disconnect comes when the footwork of the QB and receivers are not timed up from the snap as it’s been explained to me.

 
5 – Hey Chris,

Love your insight and love for the Bills keep up the great work. I’ve a proposal I think the Bills should really consider about trading Fred Jackson or releasing him. They need to go with CJ Spiller and Bryce Brown. With the addition of Bryce Brown and also Anthony Dixon they have two power backs that are younger and faster than Fred Jackson. I’m a big fan of Fred Jackson as a football talent and as a leader, but why get Brown and Dixon and still keep Jackson.

Virginia’s biggest Bills fan.
CB: I’m going to disagree with your proposal. First, Jackson is still a more than capable back in this league. Some might not see him as a bell cow type back anymore, but his value is undeniable. He’s still the best pass blocking back on the roster, he’s an offensive spark for the team and he’s more than a respected leader. He’s the pulse of the locker room.

The additions of Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown are to improve their short yardage success and to have a viable back in reserve should C.J. Spiller or Jackson get hurt, as was the case last year when both had to gut out games on one bad wheel last season. With as much running as this team intends to do they’ll need all four of them.


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Bills on the radio

Posted by Chris Brown on June 17, 2014 – 9:45 am

A couple of Bills players will be appearing on the national radio airwaves today (Tuesday). Here’s where you can find them.

12:10 pm – C.J. Spiller on PFT Live with Mike Florio

1:05 pm – Fred Jackson on The Jim Rome Show


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Fan Friday 6-13

Posted by Chris Brown on June 13, 2014 – 11:32 am

Three weeks of OTAs are over. Only the mandatory minicamp remains next week before the countdown to training camp. As always we’ll have full coverage here on Buffalobills.com. Here now are your latest questions from email at AskChris@bills.nfl.net and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills.

1 – Hey Chris,
I am hearing a lot of fans chatter about the Bills running back situation.  It’s come to be pretty crowded at the RB position at this point and since the Bryce Brown trade fans seem to think CJ is on the trading block? I don’t buy it myself.  I know that CJ and Fred are FA’s in 2015 and while it makes me very sad I tend to think that will be it for Fred Jackson.  As for CJ I don’t really know if they would like to lock him up long term.

I wanted to get your thoughts and see if you have a feel for what they might want to do.  My take is they brought in Bryce Brown because they liked him but also as insurance for the season and to see what he’s got.  I would also imagine that if they do like him after the year that he would most likely be Fred Jackson’s replacement.  To me CJ Spiller is more than just a running back and I do not believe that he has even scratched the surface of what he can be.  He’s a threat every time he touches the ball and I’m very optimistic that he is going to shine this season.  As long as he stays healthy and the coaches put him in the right situation he should be able to really show what he can be.

Like Sammy said I hope that I see CJ and Sammy play together for a long time to come.  And also what do you think of CJ’s contract situation and the RB market? Do you think that could be beneficial for the Bills or could CJ still demand a hefty contract maybe pending his season?

Thanks a lot, Jillian

CB: I think with the pressure on everybody at One Bills Drive to win this year and make the playoffs the thought of C.J. Spiller being on the trading block is absurd. Yes, C.J. is entering the last year of his contract. It’s my understanding though that Spiller wants to stay in Buffalo long term. For him to sign a long term extension now however, would not be in his best interest. He’s coming off an injury-plagued 2013 and the new offense took some getting used to.

Spotrac.com recently did a great job projecting a long term contract extension for Spiller based on what he’s done in his career to this point and presented a lot of good comp numbers from other backs in the league. Spiller presumably would want more than the $4-plus million they project, and to do that C.J. has to approach, or more likely, exceed his numbers of 2012 (1,244 yards rushing, 459 receiving, 8 TDs) to be able to negotiate more.

At this point Spiller is without an agent though he’s looking to hire one in the not too distant future. It’s my belief that both the Bills and Spiller will let the season play out and regardless of his production they secure a long term agreement that’s beneficial to both sides.

I will add that I am encouraged that offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett will diversify the ways in which he uses Spiller in the scope of the offense.

2 – Hi Chris,

I personally love the trade to go up and get Watkins, and right now after rookie camp, it looks like he is the real deal. This year is also the year that Stephon Gilmore is supposed to make the jump to an elite cornerback. With minicamp coming up and I’m expecting them to match up against each other, what would the coaches rather see? Watkins showing he is the real deal, but also Gilmore might not be the cornerback they hoped. Or would they rather have Gilmore shut him down, but also raise doubt about whether Watkins was worth what they gave up for him?

Thanks for all your coverage and GO BILLS!
Ethan
Washington DC
CB: In an ideal world for the coaches their head to head play raises the level of both players. That’s the competition that coaches and GM Doug Whaley have talked about all offseason. When the competition level is raised it inherently raises the game of the players involved and that makes the team better.

Gilmore however, is not expected to get a full workload in the team portions of practice next week. Coming off of his surgery he’s expected to be eased back into the practice setting and got a handful of snaps the last week of OTAs.

 

3 – Chris,
Thanks for the great Bills coverage for all of Bills Nation here in the desert southwest. Given the imminent change of ownership and the potential uncertainty that can bring, what is the mood of the Bills employees at OBD. Are people apprehensive regarding salary and benefit restructuring or can everyone, (including yourself) focus and keep it in the background. Thanks and the best of luck.

Hank from Nevada
CB: Our President and CEO Russ Brandon has stated more than once publicly and to us directly that it’s business as usual and we take him at his word. There is no sense in worrying about things we can’t control. So as far as I see it it’s in our best interest to do the best job we can do in the roles that we have until we know more about the future leadership of the organization. Thanks for your concern and well wishes.

 

4 – Chris,

How do you think the coaching staff views Chris Gragg? We keep hearing the Bills don’t have that “new-age” athletic TE on their roster, and if they do it’s Tony Moeaki, but Gragg has an intriguing skill set in my opinion. Is he a guy that they are planning on trying to get more use out of in his second year, or do you think he has an uphill climb to make the final 53?

Thanks!
Josh

CB: I don’t think there’s any debate about Gragg’s athletic skill set. He’s done all the right things this offseason including making it to each of the Bills player passing camps run by EJ Manuel in California and Florida this offseason.

With Scott Chandler limited he had the benefit of getting some first team reps in a rotation with Tony Moeaki and Lee Smith in OTAs.

I spoke to him this past week and he told they’ve expanded his responsibilities in the scope of the offense where he’ll be playing both the ‘Y’ (in line TE position) and the ‘F’ (detached). So there appear to be plans to broaden his role, but he’ll need to outperform both Chandler and Moeaki in camp if he’s going to get any significant playing time this season.

 

 

5 – Hey Chris,
Thanks for the great coverage this off-season. I always look forward to Fan Friday. My Question is in regards to the #3 QB spot. What have Jeff Tuel and, Dennis Dixon been up to this off-season? Tuel showed a lot of promise last pe-season but, clearly wasn’t ready when thrust into the spotlight. I still hold out hope for him. Living in Western Pa. I got to see Dixon play some as a Steeler. The guy has a motor for sure. Do you think Tuel’s spot is safe or does Dixon have a legit chance to overtake him? Maybe try to stash Tuel on the PS?

Thanks again, I look forward to your insight on this.
Scott

CB: At this point it appears that Tuel has the edge on Dixon for the third QB job on the roster. This offseason Tuel has definitely strengthened his body. He’s leaner, but stronger and it’s showing in his escapes from the pocket when a play breaks down and in his arm strength. Dixon is clearly the best athlete when it comes to taking off and running. He would win the footrace of all four QBs easy.

Tuel does have practice squad eligibility, but I’m going to have to check on Dixon. This will be a very hard battle to gauge because their reps on so limited. It’ll likely go all the way to the preseason games before a definitive call can be made.

I will say through the OTA practices I thought Tuel flashed more with the plays that he made.

 

 

 


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Fan Friday 6-6

Posted by Chris Brown on June 6, 2014 – 12:02 pm

Two weeks of OTAs are in the books with a week to go beginning this coming Monday. As always we’ll have full coverage here on Buffalobills.com. Here now are your latest questions from email at AskChris@bills.nfl.net and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills.

1 – Chris,

I liked what Bills did in rounds 1,2,3 however they did not address DE. Manny Lawson has never played end and Wynn is a bubble player at most. Hughes is more of a situational pass rusher. I’m a bit concerned what they are doing. Since they won’t blitz as much the DE’s are more important under Schwartz. This puts more pressure on young DB’s as well. What do you think the future is at DE for 2014?

CB: I don’t know that you can assume that this defense under Schwartz won’t blitz as much. From what I’ve witnessed in OTAs with the blitz packages going in there are an array of packages that Schwartz has in his playbook. How often he uses them remains to be seen.

Lawson and Hughes will likely split the right defensive end role with Lawson in on more obvious run downs and Hughes on passing downs.

What you might need to consider is how often Schwartz’s defenses in the past have put an opponent in a situation where blitzing is not necessary.

Knowing that Schwartz’s Detroit defense last season finished first in the league in third down conversion percentage allowed (30.3%) and were second in the league in red zone defense (Bills were 14th and 6th) I’m going to give Buffalo’s defensive coordinator the benefit of the doubt that he’ll know when to blitz and how often to do so.


2 –
Hi Chris
I’m a long time Clemson fan and enjoyed watching C.J. Spiller returning kicks. He is one of the best I have ever seen at it and I billeve he could challenge Devin Hesters records. With the need at special teams, Do you think the Bills should try C.J. returning kickoffs? He does hold the FBS record for kickoff return touchdowns with 7.

Thanks, Chris Gerland

CB: It’s funny that you bring this up. As I wrote in our OTA practice notes column earlier this week C.J. Spiller was one of the kick returners in practice along with T.J. Graham and Leodis McKelvin. Spiller hasn’t returned a kick for the Bills since 2011, but it looks as though he’s at least being considered for the 2014 season. That being said I wouldn’t get excited about this possibly happening until we see it in a preseason game.


3 –
Hi Chris,

With the new additions at cornerback, and a new defensive coordinator, it almost seems like Nickell Robey has been getting lost in the mix, after a productive rookie campaign.

I’ve been wondering, has their been any talk about trying him out at safety as a possible replacement for Byrd?

Between his solid tackling and his playmaking ability, I think he could transition well into the role, which would also serve to reduce his height concerns. Jim Leonhard has had a decent career at FS for a shorter defensive back.

I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Thank you,
John
CB: I don’t think you have anything to worry about with Nickell Robey. First, Robey has looked solid in his nickel corner role. Yes, he will have competition, chiefly in the form of Corey Graham, but knowing how much New England goes four wide as well as other opponents on Buffalo’s roster like Denver, Detroit, Kansas City and Green Bay chances are Buffalo will need to make use of both of those slot defenders.

To help you breathe easier about Robey’s role on this team I’ll refer you to a recent quote by defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz on Robey.

“If you measure heart, if you measure things like that, he’s six-foot ten,” said Schwartz of Robey. “He’s been a guy that’s been impressive and it hasn’t just been from watching practice here.  Watching last year’s tape.  He’s very unique in some of the quickness he has.  He’s got great anticipation, sees the game very well and he’s certainly going to have a role. He’s been one of best players through our OTAs so far.” 


4 –
Hi Chris,

Thank you for all you do. Let me start by saying I’m extremely happy with our draft this year! My question is regarding our depth at the receiver position. I think it may be difficult for a guy like TJ Graham to make it on the field. Another guy I like is Marcus Easley. I know Easley helped out, and excelled on special teams last year. Do you think that they might keep a guy like TJ, and utilize his speed on special teams? If not I’m afraid I don’t think he’ll make the roster. I look forward to hearing your opinion!
Thanks,
Dan Edel
Buffalo native, teaching English in Thailand

CB: I do think T.J. is in for an uphill battle due mainly to the fact that additions like Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams are automatically ahead of him on the depth chart. Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin were draft choices deemed as fits by this coaching staff. Graham was inherited.

Add in the fact that the staff likes Kevin Elliott, who could carve out a role on special teams as well and both Graham and Easley will be battling for one of the final spots on Buffalo’s roster with players like Elliott and Chris Hogan, both of whom have shown well thus far in OTAs.


5 -
Chris;
With the trade of Stevie Johnson to the 49ers do they Bills have any financial obligations remaining from his contract?
Thanks and keep up the good work.
Howard
Rochester Hills, MI

CB: The figure I have is $10.225M in dead money, which the Bills can spread over the next three seasons, which is the length that Johnson’s contract ran.


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Spiller: Best I’ve felt since 2012

Posted by Chris Brown on May 30, 2014 – 8:35 am

The last time C.J. Spiller was on the team’s grass practice field every step was a chore. Planting and cutting, let along straight like jogging all made his high ankle sprain throb. Spiller battled through the 2013 season with that hitch in his step. The first week of OTAs that hitch was gone.

“I don’t feel nothing, I feel great,” said Spiller. “This is the best I’ve felt since 2012 when I had that great year. The ankle feels wonderful.  I just have to keep doing what I need to do to stay healthy this whole season and try to go out there and make plays.”

Spiller, for those that don’t remember had 1,244 yards rushing and just over 1,700 yards from scrimmage in 2012 and averaged an impressive six yards a carry, tied for the league lead with Adrian Peterson.

“That’s what I’m capable of doing,” said Spiller. “When I’m fully healthy I consider myself one of the best in the league, but when you’re not healthy it kind of hinders your game a lot.  It hinders our game plan.  So the biggest thing for me is to be healthy,  for all of our running backs to be healthy so we can expand our game plan.”

 


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Posted in Inside the Bills

EJ tipped by C.J. on Watkins pick

Posted by Chris Brown on May 28, 2014 – 4:42 pm

EJ Manuel was watching the 2014 NFL draft like the rest of us back on May 8th. He naturally got excited when he saw the Bills move up from ninth to fourth in round one. Before the pick however, EJ got a phone call tipping him off as to who the team was about to pick.

“C.J. called me right before the pick and I guess he got wind that we were going to take Sammy that we were trading up to get him,” said Manuel. “We were both excited. Obviously with C.J. being a Clemson guy, but if you watch college football on Saturday you always saw Sammy making big plays. So we’re very happy about the pick.”

As for his thoughts on Watkins on the practice field today, Manuel was encouraged.

“Well I was extremely impressed with him the first day beyond his physical attributes, he’s a big guy, he’s a big receiver,” said Manuel. “But at the same time he works hard too. He does a lot of things after practice. So whenever we’re finished he’s still out there walking through his routes on his own. That’s what you want to see from a fourth pick overall whose coming in with huge expectations. You want to see him put that front foot forward and work hard. So I’m extremely happy to have him on our team.”


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Spiller on the radio

Posted by Chris Brown on May 28, 2014 – 7:06 am

Here’s where you can find C.J. Spiller this morning on the local radio airwaves with voluntary OTAs set to begin today.

Spiller will appear on the Howard Simon show this morning on Bonilla flagship station WGR Sportsradio 550 at 7:45.


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Posted in Inside the Bills