Thursday, September 16, 2010
C.J. Spiller learns patience is an NFL virtue
By Tim Graham
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Perhaps C.J. Spiller's needling teammates were keen to the symbolism when they gave him the nickname Ricky Bobby.
"I wanna go fast!" was the life's mission of Will Ferrell's lead character in the comedy "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby." But it wasn't until he learned to drive his father's 1969 Chevy Chevelle by feel -- blindfolded, fleeing from police, with a cougar in the backseat -- did Ricky Bobby regain his dominance on the track.
Spiller, the Buffalo Bills' speedy rookie running back, is learning the same lesson in the NFL: Fast isn't always the best approach.
"You can't just take the ball and start running," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "You have to see where the holes are and feel the blocking schemes, and sometimes if you get in a hurry you don't allow yourself to feel or see the blocking scheme.
Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller isn't worried about his disappointing first NFL game.
"And that's what I hope in the future, that he'll just slow down those initial thought processes and slow that motor down just a little bit."
Sheer speed was enough for Spiller at Clemson. He was so sizzling as a runner, receiver and return man that he was the first back off the 2010 draft board. The Bills selected him ninth overall.
In the NFL, however, it's not as simple as punching the accelerator. Defenders make tackles in the open field and are masterful at pursuit angles. Mismatches are tougher for an offensive player to find. Opposing coaches concoct intricate schemes to eliminate the best players, and Spiller isn't sneaking up on anybody.
"It's a feel that you have to develop, but every guy's capable of doing it," Spiller said. "You've just got to be very patient. It's going to take time. You can't rush it. That's something that I'll get used to."
The Miami Dolphins were waiting for Spiller in Sept. 12 season opener in Ralph Wilson Stadium. He had 11 touches for 14 yards. He rushed seven times for 6 yards.
His debut was one of the worst for a running back drafted in the top 10 over the past 25 years.
Notable Top 10 RB Debuts Since 1985 (Min. 1 Touch)
But that doesn't indicate what kind of experience Spiller should have on a weekly basis. The Green Bay Packers are wary of the damage Spiller can do Sunday at Lambeau Field
"We're concerned about him," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Statistically, I know they probably didn't get the ball to him as much as they would like. That's something you need to be aware of. He has a chance to make some big plays, especially when you get him in space. He's a dynamic young player."
Spiller's a threat to go the distance every time he has the ball. He might get bottled up for 11 touches and then score a long touchdown on his 12th.
He showed game-breaking ability in the preseason. He scored three highlight-reel touchdowns against first-team defenses of two defending division champs, the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals.
"He's very explosive, has the ability to get on the edge, make people miss," McCarthy said.
Gailey has taken much of the blame for the Week 1 offensive struggles. He has lamented giving his players too much information to process, not running as much as he should have and not getting the tight ends involved.
Gailey bragged last week about having three starting-caliber running backs in Spiller, Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. But Gailey opened the game against the Dolphins with four-receiver sets. Bills running backs finished with 14 combined attempts. Jackson led the way with 19 yards.
In the preseason, Spiller had 10 attempts versus Indianapolis and 12 times versus Cincinnati, and he was removed from each game at halftime.
"Had you known how it was going to turn out you would obviously have done something different," Gailey replied when I asked him if he regretted the way he deployed Spiller against the Dolphins.
Spiller laughed a little when I mentioned his official pro debut probably didn't go the way he dreamed as a kid running around Lake Butler, Fla. But he convincingly declared that forgettable game was behind him and that he's confident he'll find the right gear.
"At the end of the day, that don't matter," Spiller said. "I'm 0-1 right now. I'm trying to get to 1-1, trying to get us on a good note."
And always remember: If you're not first, you're last.