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Monday, May 23, 2011
Bills don't have a ball at informal workout

By Tim Graham

ELMA, N.Y. -- The only footballs that exchanged hands were when long-snapper Garrison Sanborn fired a few through his legs.

Other than that, about 30 Buffalo Bills conducted a workout sans pigskin Monday morning at Sahlen's Sports Park in the bucolic suburbs. The Bills staged their first mass gathering of the labor stoppage, but merely getting together was more important than the practice.

"When you add a ball to the mix it just brings out the competitiveness and aggressive nature in us," Bills safety and team NFL Players Association representative George Wilson said. "We're just moving at a slow pace."

Several key players were there, including quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, running back Fred Jackson, receiver Lee Evans, safety Jairus Byrd and three-fifths of last year's starting offensive line.

Injuries were on the minds of most players. Going too hard and getting hurt could put seasons or contracts in jeopardy. Any player injured while not working out under the supervision of the team could be placed on the non-football injury list and could be forced to repay bonus money.

"You have to be smart about it," left tackle Demetrius Bell said. "Don't go out there too hard and hurt yourself. Get a good sweat, get your work in and get off the field."

As long as the lockout wears on, offseason routines are being disrupted. At this time last year, all four AFC East teams had held their rookie camps. The New York Jets held three organized team activities by this point, and the Miami Dolphins had conducted two. The Dolphins staged last year's mandatory minicamp May 28. The others were in mid to late June.

Workouts such as the one the Bills are participating in this week help keep the players focused on football.

"We're accustomed to coming in, getting breakfast, getting taped, having the typical warm-up," Wilson said. "The routine is out. But being pros and being at this level, we have to be able to know what we need to do to be ready.

"The trust is there. I truly believe that after the season we had a year ago, the guys are working to get that bitter taste out of their mouths. We definitely want to have high expectations to be more competitive and put ourselves in position to have one of those playoff spots.

"They say championships are won in the offseason because of the work that you put in, the closeness of the team. But the good thing about this is all 32 teams are experiencing this. All 2,000-plus players have to endure the same plight. So it's all about who handles this lockout the best and once it's all over, who gets ready the fastest."

Two draft picks, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and defensive back Da'Norris Searcy, showed up. But Wilson wouldn't let them take part in drills for insurance purposes.

"I'm not allowing them to get on the field during any of the agility or conditioning or anything," Wilson said. He noted the rookies could extract usefulness from "putting faces with names, getting more acquainted with guys from their position."