Inside The Bills

Bills G ‘Unga’s brother at Combine

Posted by Chris Brown on February 23, 2014 – 11:02 am


Bills OL J.J. ‘Unga took a long and winding road to the NFL coming out of Division II Midwestern State. After being signed to Buffalo’s practice squad last season, he was eventually called up to the active roster and saw some limited playing time over the last month of the 2013 season. As his younger brother tries to embark on a pro career, he is squarely on the NFL’s radar.

Uani ‘Unga, who also goes by Devin, is an inside linebacker out of BYU and he’s in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine. A tackling machine, ‘Unga got noticed due in part to all the NFL scouts who were busy watching fellow BYU LB Kyle Van Noy, who was a Butkus award finalist last year. After seeing the difficult road his older brother traveled to reach the NFL, he’s grateful for the invite to be here in Indy.

“I definitely feel fortunate,” Unga told “I feel like it was a blessing to even be invited to the Combine. When I did get the invite it came as a surprise. Both my wife and I were excited. I think that just being able to do what I did during the season having to work hard and extra film work I think it’s paid off and been a blessing.”

Unga, who served a two-year mission, is a bit older than most college graduates considering he also had to redshirt a year after transferring from Oregon State. At 6’1″ and 233 pounds, ‘Unga is a bit undersized and may have to play in an under front to get some help inside as he might not be fleet footed enough to line up in a weak or open side position.

He’s forecast as a day three pick or priority free agent and is expected to run in the 4.8s in the 40.

“My brother basically just told me to have fun and don’t stress out too much,” said ‘Unga. “Just relax and be myself. I put in my work throughout this season and stuff and just be myself. They have my film, everybody has my film. Right now he’s just telling me to enjoy my time and my experience right now at the Combine.”

Uani remembers when his older brother J.J. signed with Buffalo last season. It was big news on his family’s online page.

“We have a family thread that we’re on together online and he just kind of let it out on the family thread. We were all excited and he was definitely excited to be on the practice squad,” said the younger ‘Unga. “Then when he got on the active roster with Buffalo it was just amazing for him since it was the first time.”

Uani has a twin brother Feti, who played at Oregon State and finished school a year earlier than him due to Uani’s transfer year. He’s training for a shot in the NFL as well. Counting J.J. there are four other brothers all of whom are playing football. All but J.J. are playing collegiately. Uani now hopes to join his brother in the NFL ranks and envisions an opportunity to meet him at the second level on a run play some time next season.

“I’ve always thought about that,” said ‘Unga. “In my family I’ve always been taught to just respect my elders, especially your older brothers. I’ve had a lot of disciplinary times where I was disrespectful to my older brothers and that would be perfect timing to show J.J. just what I’ve got.”

For more Combine coverage presented by NAPA Auto Parts, click here.

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Posted in Inside the Bills

Fan Friday 12-20

Posted by Chris Brown on December 20, 2013 – 12:00 pm

Sunday will be step one in trying to post a winning record in the division for the first time since the 2007 season. Let’s see if the Bills can make it a season sweep of the Dolphins. Here’s your latest edition of questions on email at and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills.

1 – Hi Chris,

As a Bills’ fan for decades, I believe coach Marrone is a good coach. The question is whether he can turn around the losing culture. I have a few questions regarding accountability and talents.

What are the Bills going to do with the undependable players? This includes, but not limited to, Steve Johnson, Leodis McKelvin and T. J. Graham.

What is Jairus Byrd’s long term prospect with the Bills? The Bills like to get rid of established players to save a few bucks. In the end, this contributes to a longer wish list for the ever rebuilding process. A
recent example is the Offensive line. My suggestion is to get rid of Steve Johnson and save some money for Byrd’s contract. (Note, The Bills is in the business to make money. I suppose a better product would lead to increased revenue. In this case, a true contender in NFL).

What is the long term plan for the QB position? I mean both first string and backup in this case? While coach Marrone indicated EJ Manuel is the long term solution. I beg the difference. EJ is not playing any
better than JP Losman by comparing their rookie year. Lewis and Tuel are littering their path with interceptions and fumbles. How long do you think these two can keep their job in NFL?

Marcus Easley seems to be doing a very good job in special teams. What is the possibility of moving him to CB if the Bills cannot use him as WR? This may afford the team to get rid of Leodis McKelvin thereby saving more money.

The New England Patriots seem to be able to overcome huge deficit consistently. When playing with the Patriots (as well as other teams), what are the Bills doing to safeguard our calls/signals from being stolen?

Please keep up with the good work.
C. J. Wong, Ph.D.

CB: I understand why you feel like the players you mentioned are not dependable. This is where the coaches and front office make their offseason evaluations, but being dependable goes beyond just game day. It’s about being a professional every day of the week in everything that you do. So if the players you mentioned struggle in those areas then they could be at risk with respect to their futures here.

Doug Marrone is only going to keep players on this roster that he feels he can win with the way he wants to win. He has stressed accountability time and again and has been clear in explaining to his players what accountability means. They’ve had all season to prove they’re on board. If they’re not, and only the coaches and their teammates would know for certain if that’s the case, then they won’t be here long term.

As for Jairus Byrd, the safety has said he’s open-minded to staying here long term, which is an improvement in terms of where that situation was this past summer. I think Byrd is smart enough to know that he can really flourish in this defense with the talent he has around him on that side of the ball. Talent that is tied up long term for the most part. Byrd has to be convinced that he can win here and as is usually the case the money has to be right as well.

At the quarterback position EJ is their long term answer at the position. You may not be convinced, but the people that make those decisions are. I believe this offseason will be dedicated to putting more talent around Manuel to help him succeed. We’ve certainly seen flashes of ability. What has me most encouraged is the way in which Manuel performs when the game is on the line. Buffalo has needed a clutch quarterback for the longest time and Manuel has shown he has that ability. With improved talent around him he’ll also be better for the other portions of the game too.

I believe the decision makers still see Jeff Tuel as a developmental type prospect. Thad Lewis is still being evaluated, which is why Sunday’s game is huge for him. He’s proven he’s tough and that he can deliver big plays. Now he has to prove he can learn from his mistakes and improve from some of his shortcomings in the first meeting with Miami. It’s really the perfect litmus test for him.

I completely disagree with your Marcus Easley idea. Easley doesn’t not have the foot quickness to play CB, and Leodis McKelvin is having his most consistent season in a Bills uniform at cornerback. Not to mention he’s playing at very affordable money for his position.

Finally, the reason the Patriots are able to overcome big deficits is primarily one reason and one reason only, they have one of the best quarterbacks in a generation in Tom Brady. End of story.


2 – Hi Chris, I live in Western Canada so it is always hard to get coverage on the Bills out here.  So I really appreciate all your updates.

My question is about Stevie Johnson.  It seems every year there is a play that he fails to make that costs us a game.  The game against Pittsburgh in OT where he dropped the wide open pass, the game against the Jets when he again dropped a game winning TD, and of course against the Falcons which just didn’t just cost us that game, but our season.

He is a great receiver, no doubt about that, but I question if he is ever going to be a clutch number 1 receiver.   We all agree that we need a big “go up and get it” receiver.  So if we get that receiver, someone has to go.

I think we should consider trading Stevie Johnson this off season.  Robert Woods is precise in route running and has good chemistry with EJ, and Goodwin and Graham are fast on the outside and can also move inside when needed.   I think Stevie is odd man out and gives us the most return for our buck, plus maybe he is to used to losing in Buffalo.  What do you think we could get for Johnson?  A 2nd rounder or maybe someone like Bowe in KC?

Paddy, Vancouver Canada

CB: I think Johnson is the type of receiver whose return in a trade would be limited. The reason why is he is a possession receiver. He’s a move-the-chains player not a stretch the field, deliver a game-changing play every week type wideout. Johnson is a very unique player with a unique skill set, but he is not going to blow the doors off a defense. All that being said I think at best he’d get you a fourth-round draft choice. Frankly, it might be even less because his contract may not fit the role another team might envision for him, so to take on that salary would likely lead to a team offering less in return like a fifth or sixth-round pick.

3 – Hey Chris,

My question is regarding the offensive line.  How do you see the Bills helping the line in the off season? I know they have to see how guys like JJ ‘Unga pan out over the last 3 games, but if they do go after a guy in the draft, do you see them going after a guy who can be versatile? Are there typically guys who can play guard and tackle?  I would imagine that’s what coaches look for in any player on the field.  Do you think free agency is possible?  Also, do you think Chris Hairston will be able to return to form?
Thanks, Jillian

CB: I would not be surprised if there are wholesale changes made on the offensive line. As I see it the only players who have job security are Cordy Glenn and Eric Wood. Kraig Urbik rebounded real well this past week after a down week in Tampa, but I think he will be pushed for his starting job this offseason and into training camp based on what we saw the past couple of weeks with J.J. ‘Unga. Beyond those three I expect to see change there. I think the organization will look to the draft and free agency to address the offensive line.


4 – Chris,
Thanks for the great reporting, week by week for the Bills. Yourself and John Murphy do a great job but My question is based of everything about this youth movement and getting these unknown guys more playing time. I been listening and reading about the guys y’all are naming but I keep seeing this guy left out…. Duke Williams? Why is he not getting involved in the discussions and not getting more reps? What part of his game is lacking that has him buried on the depth chart? Because before the season he was getting hyped up as a utility guy in the secondary, that could play multiple positions. What happened? Please explain that to me.

Brian in South Carolina

CB: Thanks for the kind words. I’ll be sure to pass them along to Murph. Duke Williams is a player that has been seeing time mainly on special teams. The reason he has not seen time at safety is because there is quality and experienced talent in front of him in Jairus Byrd, Aaron Williams, Da’Norris Searcy and Jim Leonhard. I do think heading into next season Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks could challenge for bigger roles and what happens with Byrd and Leonhard this offseason with both being free agents will have an impact on that as well.


5 – Chris,

I have been surprised at the lack of two back sets the Bills are utilizing this year. I would think this would confuse defenses as Fred is a highly capable pass-blocking back and we all know about CJ’s home run ability with every touch. Would these formations not mix things up and keep opposing defenses off balance… not knowing to expect run or pass?

Also, I am concerned (as are many fans) about the utilization of CJ Spiller. Not in terms of number of plays per game, or on the year, but the play calls he is being used in. They seem to heavily favor running him behind the left or right guards. Why not more screen plays? I think all of us get excited when CJ Spiller has the ball with 3-4 blockers in front of him with the ability to pick and choose which lanes he wants to take.

Jim from Massachusetts

CB: We saw some split backfield in training camp, but there has been very little of it during the season. I do think there is an element of predicitability there when they have only Fred or C.J. on the field in a single back set. Heading into last week’s Jacksonville game I know that Spiller had not been on the field for more than 40 percent of the snaps since Week 2.

However, when he is on the field he got the ball 60 percent of the time. While the usage is admirable I fear that it makes Buffalo’s offense predictable when Spiller is in the backfield.

Jackson is usually on the field in third down situations because they trust him with blitz pickup and blocking assignments.

I don’t know a one-thousandth of what Nathaniel Hackett knows about football, but I do think a split backfield with C.J. and Fred in the offensive backfield on third down could create a lot of headaches for opposing defenses. That’s where I think it could be most useful for Buffalo’s offense.

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Posted in Inside the Bills

Urbik’s solid play keeps ‘Unga on bench

Posted by Chris Brown on December 15, 2013 – 9:45 pm

The plan all along was to get rookie G J.J. ‘Unga more snaps in Sunday’s game against Jacksonville. With Kraig Urbik a game time decision with a foot injury it even raised the possibility that ‘Unga would make his first NFL start. Neither of those scenarios developed as Urbik turned in one of his better performances and went wire to wire in the win over the Jaguars.

“I think because we made the decision that Urbik went in there and started playing well and he was playing at a higher level than he had played before,” said head coach Doug Marrone in explaining why ‘Unga did not see any playing time on offense. “(Urbik) did some good things so Pat (Morris) came to me and asked, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘The way Kraig is playing right now and as healthy as he is we’re sticking with him because we’re trying to win a game.’”

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Linemates have faith in ‘Unga

Posted by Chris Brown on December 14, 2013 – 5:55 pm

Rookie J.J. ‘Unga stands a good chance of getting his first NFL start at right guard today in place of an injured Kraig Urbik (foot), who will be a game time decision Sunday. He’s only been with the team for a few weeks, but he feels ready for the possibility of a full game’s worth of work.

“It came up pretty fast,” said ‘Unga. “Everything came all at once and I’ve only been here a little while, maybe like two weeks, three weeks. So yeah, everything just sort of jumped out.”

Being so new to the offense, ‘Unga has been working on just mastering the game plan week to week. He uses his spare time to absorb a few more pages of the team’s playbook.

“I’m comfortable enough,” said ‘Unga. “I feel like I still have a lot to learn and a lot more plays to lean, but I feel comfortable enough right now.”

More importantly his teammates have faith that ‘Unga can get the job done.

“I’m confident he can come in and do a good job,” said Eric Wood. “He’s extremely powerful, grasped the offense really well when he came in initially, which allowed him to get some reps, some meaningful reps at practice. That’s all maybe going to pay off if Urbik can’t go.”

“This is the biggest opportunity I’ve ever had,” ‘Unga said. “I just want to take this opportunity and show them what I can do.”

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Posted in Inside the Bills

The answer to the apostrophe in ‘Unga

Posted by Chris Brown on December 14, 2013 – 5:10 pm

For those that may not have noticed, Bills new guard J.J. ‘Unga has an apostrophe at the front of his surname. asked ‘Unga about the apostrophe and how common it might be in the Tongan language.

‘Unga was born and raised in California, but both of his parents are native to Tonga. As for the apostrophe it’s common in the Tongan language.

“It emphasizes the ‘U,’” ‘Unga said in explaining the presence of the apostrophe. “Instead of saying, ‘Ung-guh’ it’s ‘Oohng-ah.’ Just more emphasis on the ‘U’ and less on the ‘G.’ If you see it in the word, the next letter will be emphasized.”

‘Unga admits he grows tired of correcting people on the pronunciation. Most Americanize it and just say ‘Ung-gah.’ The lineman politely corrects most of the offenders often repeating it twice.

The apostrophe is often viewed as a typo and simply ignored. Upon receiving his player jersey in Buffalo he noticed the apostrophe was missing from his name on the back.

“They didn’t know so I had to tell them and they added a last minute apostrophe,” said ‘Unga smiling. “It might be little, but to me it’s a big thing.”

Posted in Inside the Bills

New OL Unga to line up at guard

Posted by Chris Brown on November 20, 2013 – 12:24 pm

Buffalo’s most recent signee, OL J.J. Unga, was an offensive tackle by trade, but that’s not where he’ll line up for the Bills.

“They had him at tackle, but we’re moving him inside to play guard,” said head coach Doug Marrone.

Marrone explained the main reason they picked Unga up.

“What we like to do is build a bigger team,” he said. “My philosophy has always been that this is a big man’s game. So when we have the opportunity to better ourselves we have to go ahead and do that no matter what time of the year it is. That’s what we were trying to do. We were trying to get bigger.”


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