AFC East: James Hardy

James Hardy still has superstar dreams

June, 6, 2011
6/06/11
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Longtime friend of the blog Bill Barnwell forwarded a link Buffalo Bills fans should get a kick out of.

Hardy
Hardy
BaltimoreRavens.com blogger Ryan Mink says former Bills receiver James Hardy still plans on becoming a superstar NFL receiver because of what he learned from Terrell Owens in 2009.

"I learned to be a professional [in Buffalo]," Hardy said while working out with the Ravens recently at Towson State. "I learned how to do things behind closed doors by watching Terrell Owens, so I can be that elite receiver. Hopefully that will happen here."

The Bills drafted Hardy 41st overall in 2008 and cut him after just 10 receptions over two seasons. He remained unemployed for the entire regular season. The Ravens signed him in January to a futures contract.

David Nelson belongs in NFL -- final answer

December, 23, 2010
12/23/10
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David NelsonAP Photo/David DupreyDavid Nelson, scolded by Regis Philbin for picking Florida over Notre Dame, has found a home with the Bills.
When rookie receiver David Nelson signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent, his primary objective was to do was gather some preseason game film for potential future employers and someday hope to prove Regis Philbin wrong.

Eight months later, Nelson is a starter with a touchdown in three straight games and a girlfriend who's a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.

Take that, Rege.

"If you'd have told me sixth months ago I'd be in the situation I'm in now, I'd have called you crazy," Nelson told me Thursday over the phone from One Bills Drive.

It's not often a high school kid gets called out by a lovable TV icon, but that's what happened to Nelson.

"My mom loves Regis," Nelson said.

Nelson was a blue-chip prep prospect from Wichita Falls, Texas. He committed to Notre Dame but changed his mind when Philbin's beloved alma mater fired coach Tyrone Willingham. Nelson switched to the University of Florida, drawing Philbin's ire.

"Big mistake for you, kid!" Philbin wagged his finger one morning on "Live! with Regis & Kelly."

"To make a decision you thought was best for your family and best for your future and then Regis Philbin comes out and calls it a mistake, that was kind of neat," Nelson said. "It was the first time a national celebrity mentioned our family.

"It's a funny story and feels good to make somebody eat their words."

For a few years, however, Philbin looked like he was correct. Nelson struggled at Florida. The Gators redshirted him as a freshman. He couldn't get on the field for a couple years. He was relegated to special teams.

"You start to think 'What might have been? Maybe Regis was right,' " Nelson said with a laugh. "Looking back now, it's easy to see I made the right decision."

Nelson helped the Gators win the national crown his junior season. He started the SEC championship game (Percy Harvin was too injured to play) and scored a touchdown to help beat Alabama. Nelson caught a famous Tim Tebow jump pass for a touchdown to knock off Oklahoma in the BCS title game.

Nelson had a strong senior season, too, but nobody drafted him. He was pursued by a few teams, but chose the Bills because he thought they afforded him the best opportunity to get started on the arduous journey of practice squads, waiver wires and tryouts.

"I thought it was going to be a long road," Nelson said. "I have a lot of friends that went the undrafted road. They said it can be discouraging at times, hard at times. You have to realize it's your dream, and if you want it bad enough you've got to stick to it.

"I was fully prepared, coming into this whole deal, to go to four or five camps, go to four or five different teams, practice squad for a couple months, get cut, practice squad again until you find your niche."

Nelson caught some breaks along the way and performed well enough that he found a home immediately.

Buffalo's new general manager and coaching staff showed they weren't beholden to high draft picks from previous years and cut 2008 second-round pick James Hardy. This year's fourth-round draft choice, Marcus Easley, went down with a season-ending knee injury in August.

Nelson made the roster. In-season injuries to veterans Roscoe Parrish and Lee Evans have given him greater opportunities to show what he can do.

He'll have the chance to extend his touchdown streak Sunday against the New England Patriots, another team that wanted to sign him after the draft. Of the dozen or so teams to contact him, only two calls came from head coaches: Gailey and Bill Belichick, a close friend of Urban Meyer, who coached Nelson at Florida.

"What he did with Florida is pretty much what he's doing with Buffalo in this league," Belichick said. "He's a big target. He's got great range. He can get to a lot of balls, excellent hands. He's not the fastest receiver, but he's deceptive, and he's got a good burst and good quickness.

"If the quarterback puts the ball away from the defender, he can adjust and make the play, that kind of thing. He's a very crafty guy, and he's a smart football player. He knows coverages. He knows how to get open, and it's obvious that [Ryan] Fitzpatrick has a lot of confidence in him."

Nelson seems to have done just fine for himself as a football player.

Oh, and Nelson's dating Kelsi Reich, an actual Cowboys cheerleader who has blogged about rooting for the Bills, too.

Not a bad testimonial for perseverance.

Bye week inventory: Buffalo Bills

October, 14, 2010
10/14/10
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A look at the Buffalo Bills heading into their bye weekend ...

Reason for hope: I considered leaving this section blank because it's difficult to envision the Bills making serious headway this year. They're 0-5, have allowed at least 30 points in four straight games and won't play another game at home for about a month. They're not going to the playoffs, and even a game-to-game spoiler role seems ambitious. Owner Ralph Wilson recently said the rebuilding process will take three more years.

[+] EnlargeFred Jackson
Tom Croke/Icon SMIFred Jackson is averaging 5.0 yards per carry this season.
So what is there to root for? Individual players, I guess. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been decent, which for the Bills is a coup. In his three starts he has thrown seven touchdowns and just two interceptions. Running back Fred Jackson is an overachiever who leaves it all out on the field. Head coach Chan Gailey hasn't yet figured out how to use ninth overall draft choice C.J. Spiller in the offense, but the rookie playmaker is almost certain to provide a few highlight-reel plays over the last 11 games.

Cause for concern: Perhaps most alarming is the "reason for hope" category should be rife with the names of prospects who are contributing, but too many of them have failed to develop. Last year's 11th overall pick, pass-rusher Aaron Maybin, can't get on the field. Top draft choices over the past three years -- Trent Edwards, Marshawn Lynch and James Hardy to name a few -- have been released or traded. Those players should have been the young nucleus of a rebuilding team.

The Bills are weak at critical infrastructure positions: quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive line, linebacker. Their biggest strength heading into the season was their secondary, a unit that helped the Bills rank second in pass defense and second in interceptions last year. Through five games, the Bills rank 11th in pass defense and have one interception. They spent the entire offseason switching to a 3-4 defense, but now they're gravitating back to four-man fronts because they're getting physically overpowered on a weekly basis.

Time to heal: The week off especially will help cornerback Terrence McGee (back), safety Bryan Scott (knee), linebacker Keith Ellison (knee) and tackle Cornell Green (knee). Tight end Shawn Nelson was suspended for the first four games and will benefit from the extra week of practice.

AccuScore forecast: The Bills have not been mathematically eliminated, but AccuScore's computers give them a zero percent chance of winning the division or going to the playoffs. They're pegged for a 3-13 record.

Buffalo Bills cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
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Check here for a full list of roster moves.

Biggest surprise: Many believed the Bills could keep an extra running back, either veteran Chad Simpson or undrafted rookie Joique Bell, because Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson have been banged up. Simpson and Bell had strong summers, but the Bills cut them both. It's also notable the Bills have given up on 2008 second-round pick James Hardy. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound target never looked as good in action as he did in a uniform. He had injury problems, missing almost all of last year while recovering from a knee injury. He had sports hernia surgery in the offseason. Undrafted rookies outperformed him in camp.

No-brainers: There was no reason to keep rookie quarterback Levi Brown on the 53-man roster. He was drafted in the seventh round out of Troy as a long-term project. He's a safe bet to clear waivers and be added to the practice squad, but if another team snags him, no big loss. The move means the Bills likely will keep backups Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm, each of whom started for them last year.

What's next: On a team that hasn't made the playoffs in 10 years, few positions should be safe. That fact is emphasized by the number of undrafted rookies who made the squad. Bills general manager Buddy Nix will monitor the waiver wire and scrutinize all the veterans who've been dumped into the free-agent pool to see if there are any fits. The Bills will try to improve their offensive line depth and defensive front seven, especially.

AFC East preseason finale observations

September, 2, 2010
9/02/10
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With all 32 teams wrapping up their preseason schedules Thursday night, here are a few quick hits from each AFC East game:

Detroit Lions 28, Buffalo Bills 23
  • Trent Edwards was efficient in his one quarter, completing all four of his passes for 66 yards, including a 50-yard strike down the left sideline to Lee Evans.
  • But because Edwards is so inconsistent and injury-prone, backup quarterback remains a big question mark. Ryan Fitzpatrick had the night off. Brian Brohm played less than two quarters and completed 7 of 15 passes for 78 yards and an interception that was tight end J.P. Foschi's fault.
  • Bills kicker Rian Lindell is in midseason form. He nailed field goals from 47, 50 and 41 yards. Remember when former coach Dick Jauron shied from letting Lindell try long kicks?
  • The Bills still have a tough decision to make at receiver. Chad Jackson had a game-high five catches for 59 yards, but hobbled off the field late. James Hardy, a 2008 second-round pick, was targeted seven times but made three catches for 23 yards in the second half.
New York Giants 20, New England Patriots 17
  • Rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski is becoming a folk hero. He caught his fourth touchdown of the preseason, a 5-yard toss from Tom Brady on their first drive. The touchdown wasn't as eye-popping as Gronkowski's first two, but he did have a defender hanging on him.
  • New England's first-team defense looked shaky again. Eli Manning marched right through them, going 86 yards on nine plays for a touchdown to open the game. The Giants' starters picked up two more easy first downs on the second possession before punting.
  • Running back Laurence Maroney finally got some action after being a bystander the previous two games: nine carries for 32 yards. Uninspiring. For the record, Fred Taylor started the game.
  • Rookie Devin McCourty bounced back from an awful performance in the previous game, and that's a good sign with veteran Leigh Bodden sidelined for the season. McCourty played only two series but made three tackles and had a pass defensed.
New York Jets 21, Philadelphia Eagles 17
  • Rookie running back Joe McKnight had a rough preseason. He lost his third fumble, and this one was returned 64 yards for an Eagles touchdown. Rex Ryan said McKnight will make the roster and be deactivated until he proves himself in practice.
  • Had the Jets not used a fourth-round draft choice on McKnight, he'd be gone. He was outplayed by Chauncey Washington and Danny Woodhead. Washington ran 12 times for 56 yards, including a long of 22 yards. Woodhead had 12 carries for 45 yards and a 14-yard touchdown.
  • Mark Brunell had an efficient game: 11-of-17 for 118 yards and touchdown passes to Santonio Holmes and Jeff Cumberland.
  • Holmes had a busy night in what will be his last action for a month. He had four catches for 97 yards. His touchdown traveled 51 yards and came in the fourth quarter. Probably not fair to do to Philly reserves who won't be employed come Saturday. But Holmes will be out of commission while serving a four-game suspension.
Dallas Cowboys 27, Miami Dolphins 25
  • The Dolphins had a nerve-racking sequence in the second quarter. Franchise left tackle Jake Long, my pick as the club's most indispensable player, got shaken up on a play when Chad Henne absorbed a blindside sack and fumbled. Four plays later, Sam Hurd beat cornerback Sean Smith for a 43-yard touchdown.
  • Tyler Thigpen, not Pat White, received the prime mop-up duty after Henne and Chad Pennington took their turns. Thigpen did well. He was 10-of-18 for 160 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He ran three times for 20 yards.
  • Only 12 rushing attempts for Dolphins running backs, but 39 passes. Not sure what it means. Maybe coach Tony Sparano just wanted to let Pennington and Thigpen air it out. Maybe the Dolphins didn't want to waste their backs. But I doubt that ratio is a blueprint for the regular season.
  • Tough decision coming at receiver, even after the Greg Camarillo trade. Patrick Turner (one catch for 29 yards) was a third-round pick last year, but hasn't produced as much as undrafted rookies Marlon Moore (4 catches, 31 yards and a touchdown) or Roberto Wallace (3 catches, 59 yards and a touchdown).

Bad news Bills lose another big player

August, 18, 2010
8/18/10
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Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey revealed Wednesday safety Jairus Byrd had groin surgery for a third time in the past 13 months and will be out indefinitely.
Byrd
Byrd

The problem is related to the sports-hernia surgery Byrd underwent before the end of last season. Still, Byrd managed to intercept nine passes in just 14 games (11 starts) and tied for the NFL lead. He was selected for the Pro Bowl but couldn't play.

"It looks like he's going to be out for a while," Gailey said. "We're hoping first game, but it may be not."

Buffalo's prospects for 2010 were dim enough without their roster being ravaged by injuries.

For context on how rough training camp has been, here's a loosely comprised list of their top few players, not counting punter Brian Moorman or kicker Rian Lindell.
  • Wide receiver Lee Evans: healthy.
  • Outside linebacker Aaron Schobel: released/retired.
  • Running back Fred Jackson: out four to six weeks with a broken hand.
  • Running back Marshawn Lynch: out three to four weeks with a sprained ankle.
  • Inside linebacker Paul Posluszny: missed first two weeks and preseason opener after groin surgery ... expected to play Thursday night against Indianapolis Colts.
  • Cornerback Terrence McGee: healthy.
  • Safety Jairus Byrd: out indefinitely after groin surgery.
  • Running back C.J. Spiller: healthy ... not sure yet where the rookie should rank on this list, but he belongs.

Did I forget anybody? Maybe you can put defensive lineman Marcus Stroud in there somewhere. He's also healthy.

Also hurt for the Bills: receivers David Nelson (leg), James Hardy (foot) and Marcus Easley (knee) and linebacker Chris Kelsay (shoulder).

Left tackle Demetrius Bell (knee) and right guard Eric Wood (leg) have been moved along cautiously as they recover from injuries suffered last year. Both are expected to play Thursday night.

Hoop it up: an All-AFC East pickup game

August, 15, 2010
8/15/10
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You've probably heard Miami Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall has hoop dreams.

In the event of a lockout next year, Marshall intends to play shooting guard for the Denver Nuggets. If not the Nuggets, he'll join Dwyane Wade and LeBron James with the Miami Heat.

The first thought that entered my mind was that Marshall has as much of a shot as Uncle Rico did of playing for the Dallas Cowboys.

Then I realized Marshall might not be the best basketball player on the Dolphins' roster.

With that in mind, I came up with a list of AFC East players with better basketball pedigrees than Marshall's.

But before you read the rundown, check out TrueHoop writer Kevin Arnovitz's scouting report from Marshall's glory days at Lake Howell High, including an attempt to swipe a can of Pepsi off the rim and take a swing before his feet touched down in a dunk contest.

Erik Ainge, 6-foot-5 Jets quarterback: Street & Smith's honorable mention All-American in high school. ... Father played basketball at Brigham Young. ... Uncle Danny played for the Boston Celtics and now runs the team.

Ikaika Alama-Francis, 6-foot-5 Dolphins outside linebacker: Was recruited by Division I programs, but stayed home to play basketball as a walk-on at the University of Hawaii.

Demetrius Bell, 6-foot-5 Bills tackle: Attended Northwestern State on a basketball scholarship and played three seasons. ... Son of NBA legend Karl Malone and half-brother of former WNBA star Cheryl Ford.

James Hardy, 6-foot-5 Bills receiver: Played in 23 games and started three as a freshman at Indiana University in 2004-05. ... Rated 78th best prep player in the country for Fort Wayne Elmhurst.

Joey Haynos, 6-foot-8 Dolphins tight end: Turned down scholarship offers from Coastal Carolina and Campbell to walk on the Maryland football team.

Quentin Moses, 6-foot-5 Dolphins outside linebacker: All-state hoopster in Georgia. Briefly played on the University of Georgia basketball team before focusing solely on football.

Randy Moss, 6-foot-4 Patriots receiver: A two-time West Virginia high school player of the year. He played briefly in the NBA's summer league in 2000 and the United States Basketball League in 2001.

Darrelle Revis, 5-foot-11 Jets cornerback: First-team all-state point guard for Aliquippa High in Pennsylvania. ... Recruited to play basketball for Pittsburgh, Western Kentucky, St. Bonaventure, Duquesne and others.

Jason Taylor, 6-foot-6 Jets outside linebacker: Played basketball as a sophomore at University of Akron. Started or was first man off the bench as a power forward, averaging eight points and 5.4 rebounds.

A look at Buffalo's first depth chart

August, 9, 2010
8/09/10
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Since we took a gander at the Miami Dolphins' first depth chart of the summer, we ought to peek at the one other AFC East club that released theirs on Monday.

The New York Jets haven't released one yet. And I won't bother to analyze the New England Patriots' depth chart because Bill Belichick has been known to take an arbitrary approach.

Nick Kaczur still listed at right tackle? Devin McCourty a third-string cornerback? A two-back set with Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk both starting?

Doesn't look right.

But new Bills coach Chan Gailey seemed to sketch an honest depth chart in advance of Friday night's preseason opener against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.

No real surprises on the first-team offense, but it should be noted Demetrius Bell is listed at left tackle despite missing time while coming back from his knee injury. Jonathan Stupar is the tight end ahead of Shawn Nelson.

Most interesting are the reserve receivers. James Hardy, a second-round pick two years ago, is fourth at one receiver spot. He's behind starter Steve Johnson, Roscoe Parrish and undrafted rookie David Nelson.

Felton Huggins is on the second team behind Lee Evans and ahead of former Patriots second-round draft pick Chad Jackson.

For the record, the quarterbacks are Trent Edwards, then Ryan Fitzpatrick, then Brian Brohm, then Levi Brown.

No bombshells on defense.

Most notable is Drayton Florence ahead of Leodis McKelvin at right cornerback. Last year's 11th overall draft choice, Aaron Maybin, is behind Miami Dolphins castoff Reggie Torbor at outside linebacker.

Third-round rookie Alex Carrington is the top backup at left defensive end ahead of 2006 first-rounder John McCargo.

Paul Posluszny still appears as a starting inside linebacker even though he has missed almost all of camp because of groin surgery. Donte Whitner and Jairus Byrd are the safeties.

Who's handling the punt and kickoff return duties? No clue. TBA is listed in both slots.

Camp Confidential: Buffalo Bills

August, 2, 2010
8/02/10
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 31

PITTSFORD. N.Y. -- Of any preseason prediction I can make, the one I'm most confident in is that the Buffalo Bills will finish fourth in the AFC East.

That slot would be neither general manager Buddy Nix's nor head coach Chan Gailey's fault. The problems they inherited have set the course for 2010.

But they are setting a tone for the long-term future the players can respect.

Gailey is trying to establish a new culture with his first training camp. He wants people to use two adjectives that haven't been associated with the Bills for a long time: tough and disciplined.

"He's very particular about things and how he wants them done," Bills receiver Lee Evans said. "We haven't really had that for a while here, with the head man running the show. You understand what he's trying to get done."

Gailey has kept his players in full pads at St. John Fisher College. Previous coach Dick Jauron rarely had his players in complete gear at camp.

Gailey believes players should be in pads and tested both physically and mentally. He's in a discovery phase not only about what he'll be able to work with on Sunday afternoons, but also keepers who will help him build a long-term foundation.

"When you actually have those shoulder pads on, mouthpiece in, chinstrap buckled up and you have to get off a block to make a play," safety George Wilson said, "that really shows the true testament of a real football player.

"That's what our coaching staff needs, a new staff that's coming in to evaluate this entire team and be able to put the best 53 men together for this 2010 season. I like what we’re doing. It's going to make us a lot more physical, a lot tougher, a lot more mentally prepared, and I have a positive outlook about it."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeEdwards
AP Photo/David DupreyTrent Edwards is being given the chance to win the starting quarterback job.
1. Can quarterback Trent Edwards capitalize on another opportunity? Bills fans seemed to be pulling for Brian Brohm to emerge as the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. A major reason is they haven't seen him truly fail yet -- unlike Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Yet, after several months working with his quarterbacks, Gailey liked Edwards best and installed him as the No. 1 quarterback to begin training camp. The battle remains open, but with Fitzpatrick and Brohm sharing reps with the backups and surrendering a few here and there to rookie Levi Brown, it's Edwards' job to lose. Based on Edwards' medical chart (combined with Hot Issue No. 2 below), there are no guarantees.

But Edwards has yet to get a fair shot to prove what he can do. He has experienced plenty of chaos since the Bills drafted him in the third round in 2007. Gailey is the first offensive-minded head coach Edwards has played under. Last year, offensive coordinator Turk Schonert got fired 10 days before the season, the Bills jettisoned both starting tackles (two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters and the most experienced member of the offensive line, Langston Walker) from the season before and endured a futile no-huddle experiment.

Gailey has run successful offenses everywhere he has been. This finally could be a legitimate chance for Edwards to show what he can do.

2. How will the Bills survive without proven offensive tackles? The Bills aren't known for their pass rush, but it was apparent in the early days of practice their offensive tackles were overmatched in pass protection. For their safety, quarterbacks wear red jerseys to remind oncoming defenders not to hit them. Good thing, or else the Bills might have needed to sign some replacements already.

While some front offices believe guards are fungible and tackles vital, the Bills have operated contradictorily in recent years. They've drafted guards within the first two rounds (Eric Wood and Andy Levitre) and paid big bucks for a free agent (Derrick Dockery) while declining to draft a tackle earlier than the fifth round since 2002.

Left tackle Demetrius Bell has been limited in 11-on-11 drills because he's recovering from knee surgery. He received his first snaps Sunday. His replacement, Jamon Meredith, has been overwhelmed at times. The other tackles likely to make the 53-man roster -- Cornell Green, Kirk Chambers and rookie Ed Wang -- have looked ordinary at best.

[+] EnlargeSchobel
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe Bills have decided to move forward without linebacker Aaron Schobel.
3. What will happen with vacillating pass-rusher Aaron Schobel? He spent the entire offseason at his home in Texas, perhaps playing possum. He didn’t return to the Bills' facility to collect his roster bonus or participate in offseason workouts. He told some media outlets he was all but retired.

Then, on the verge of camp, the two-time Pro Bowler with a $6 million base salary expressed a change of heart. Schobel might want to play after all. Or maybe he's posturing for a trade, threatening to show up a month before the regular season despite failing to attend so much as a chalk-board session on the team's transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4.

On Monday morning, the Bills provided a nebulous answer: In a news release, Nix announced the team is moving forward with plans that do not include Schobel.

Nix said: “Aaron has been contemplating retirement for the past seven months, but we are at the point where we are moving forward and have informed his agent of our plans.”

Schobel can improve the defense with his talents, but the team is rebuilding and going through a defensive transformation he has demurred from. If they cut him, then they forfeit an asset. A trade appears to be the best option to me.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Wide receiver Steve Johnson was an afterthought when the Bills drafted him in the seventh round three years ago. But the front office was quietly confident he would be a player someday. After getting buried on a depth chart that no longer includes Terrell Owens and Josh Reed, Johnson might be ready to emerge. Johnson opened camp as the starting No. 2 receiver opposite Evans. That puts James Hardy on the spot. The Bills took him in the second round the same year they drafted Johnson.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Rookie running back C.J. Spiller, the ninth overall draft choice, still hasn't been signed. Reports indicate it might be a while before he's under contract. The players around him in the draft order have come to terms, but Spiller was the first running back off the board and was considered the most electric playmaker in the draft. His agent, Gary Wichard, certainly is hammering home that point every time he speaks to the Bills. While it's true running backs can afford to miss practice more than other positions because their role is so reactionary, Spiller is more than that. The Bills also consider him a receiver, and that makes practice time more precious for learning the nuances of Gailey's offense.

[+] EnlargeChan Gailey
AP Photo/ David DupreyChan Gailey is trying to learn as much about his team by working them out in full gear.
OBSERVATION DECK
  • The atmosphere at St. John Fisher College has been lifeless. It hasn't mattered whether it's morning, afternoon, night, weekday or weekend. The few fans who have shown up are silent.
  • Fitzpatrick has been plagued by interceptions through the first few days of camp. Bills defenders seem to have developed a strong read on where he's going to throw.
  • Gailey has mandated knee braces at practice for the offensive linemen, whether they've had injuries or not. He has been doing that since he began working with O-line coach Joe D'Alessandris at Georgia Tech in 2002. The players can opt out of the knee braces for games if they don't like how they feel.
  • The Bills' defensive backs have sensational hands. In every drill I watched, it was rare to see a ball hit the ground.
  • Left cornerback Leodis McKelvin has demonstrated lapses in concentration. He seemed lost in a passing drill Saturday, getting beaten by Hardy for an easy touchdown. Secondary coach George Catavolos had trouble getting McKelvin's attention afterward for some instruction. Soon after, McKelvin was dropping punts in a return drill.
  • Inside linebacker Kawika Mitchell told me the unit relies on free-agent acquisition Andra Davis' insight when it comes to 3-4 questions. That also goes for inside linebackers coach DeMontie Cross, who hasn't coached an NFL 3-4 before.
  • Mitchell on the 3-4: "It gives you more freedom. It allows you to showcase your ability a lot more. It's going to be a lot more fun."
  • Brian Moorman and Rian Lindell are one of the NFL's best punter-kicker combos. The Bills didn't bother to bring in any additional legs.
  • Wood is a head knocker. His quick return from a shattered left leg and no-nonsense demeanor on the field will make him popular in Buffalo.
  • After obstructed media views on the opening day, the Bills did a fine job of reorganizing their access areas to allow better viewing of 11-on-11 drills.
  • Outside linebacker Aaron Maybin has a body shape that stands out the moment you see him. Maybin looks like a Wii character, with a tiny waist that flares upward toward his shoulder pads. He told me his waist is 36 inches, but in pads it seems like a 28.
  • I focused on the tight ends at the blocking sled Friday morning. I saw why sophomore Shawn Nelson is viewed as more receiver than blocker. He looked considerably less powerful than the rest. While Derek Schouman, Jonathan Stupar and Michael Matthews jacked the sled, Nelson merely budged it. Nelson is listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. Only Matthews is larger at 6-4 and 270.

Over or under? Buffalo Bills

June, 29, 2010
6/29/10
9:30
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Football Outsiders managing editor Bill Barnwell and I pick over or under for three players from each AFC East team, using 2010 statistical projections from ESPN.com's fantasy analysts.

We start with the Buffalo Bills.

Spiller
Spiller
Rookie running back C.J. Spiller, 1,152 yards from scrimmage

Barnwell's take: UNDER. The problem here isn't Spiller's talent, but the context of the situation he's entering. The Bills are rebuilding their offensive line after last year's rash of injuries and the retirement of Brad Butler. Lines take time to meld. There's no established quarterback to take the pressure off of the run game, which suggests there will be eight men in the box against Spiller on most plays. He's also going to be splitting time with Fred Jackson and, potentially, Marshawn Lynch. He's explosive, but so was Darren McFadden when he was coming out of school.

My take: UNDER. For those who were wondering, ESPN.com's fantasy forecast has Spiller rushing for 812 yards and catching 39 passes for 340 yards. I can't envision Spiller running for that kind of yardage behind a patchwork offensive line that's especially weak at tackle, which will curb Spiller's ability to get outside. Spiller won't be able to grind out 800-plus yards up the middle. That said, I also disagree with the receiving projections. They're too low.

Evans
Evans
Wide receiver Lee Evans, 54 catches

Barnwell's take: OVER. I think that projection is pretty close to his eventual total, but my concern is the lack of reliable talent across the field from Evans. He was thrown 137 passes in 2006; since then, his target total has gone consistently down, with 113 in 2007, 102 in 2008, and 95 a year ago. It's hard to figure that James Hardy or Steve Johnson will be thrown as many passes as Terrell Owens was last year, and with those passes needing to go somewhere, I think Evans gets closer to that 130-target level in 2010.

My take: OVER. Call me foolish for continuing to believe this, but Evans is a far superior talent compared to his production, and Buffalo's quarterback play can't get any worse than last year. Evans has played six NFL seasons, and in three of them he caught 48 or fewer passes. He's coming off the worst season of his career in both receptions and yardage, but as Bill points out, Owens is gone. So is Josh Reed. Somebody has to catch the ball, and I have a hard time believing an offensive-minded coach like Chan Gailey won't be able to figure out a way to deliver it to Evans.

Byrd
Byrd
Safety Jairus Byrd, five interceptions

Barnwell's take: UNDER. Since 1990, there have been 24 instances of a player picking off nine passes in a year. In the subsequent season, those defensive backs averaged fewer than three interceptions. I think Byrd's performance last year was a combination of good instincts and, honestly, luck. How many of Byrd's interceptions were overthrows that just fell into his lap? Those just don't happen year after year.

My take: OVER. It's hard to guess what the Bills' defense will look like. They're transforming from a Tampa 2 to a 3-4. But Byrd is a ballhawk in a division that should pass more this year. He recorded nine interceptions even though he didn't take over the starting free safety spot until Week 5, played hurt for most of the season and missed the final two games to have sports hernia surgery.

Pats draft bust seeks redemption with Bills

June, 28, 2010
6/28/10
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- There's an assumption when an elite organization such as the New England Patriots misfires on a high draft choice that it must be the player's fault.

Chad Jackson carries that stigma, a 36th overall selection the Patriots dumped after two seasons and 14 games.

[+] EnlargeChad Jackson
AP Photo/David DupreyKnowing he is running out of chances, Chad Jackson is trying to make up for lost time.
Jackson knows he's running out of chances and appears to be an underdog to make the Buffalo Bills' roster. Head coach Chan Gailey said he intends to keep five receivers. Jackson, who didn't play a down anywhere last year, might need somebody else to get hurt.

"I got a lot to prove around the league," Jackson told me after a Bills minicamp practice last week. "I was a high draft pick, and coming out I had a lot of disappointments. Right now, I'm just trying to make up for it."

Jackson left the University of Florida after a sparkling junior season. He led the SEC and tied a Gators record with 88 receptions for 900 yards and nine touchdowns.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick carries an aura of infallibility, and with inside information from Gators coach and close pal Urban Meyer, Patriots fans figured Jackson would be a star when they traded up 16 spots to draft him in 2006.

Jackson battled hamstring and groin problems through his rookie season. He was limited to 12 games and only one start. He caught 13 passes for 152 yards, but he did score three touchdowns. In the AFC Championship Game, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. He played in only two games in 2007.

When the Patriots cut him in August 2008, there was a belief Jackson wasn't willing to put in the time necessary to be great -- whether it was through rehab, learning the playbook or film study.

"There's two sides to every story," Jackson said. "I won't get into all that. But I had my opportunity and I didn't take full advantage of it."

I asked him if he could do anything differently, what would it be.

"Not get hurt," he said with a laugh. "When I got hurt, I fell back. I tore my ACL. I hurt my hamstring. Then they brought Randy Moss and Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth and all those guys in. I was put on the backburner. I'm just trying to make up for lost time now."

Jackson spent four games with the Denver Broncos in 2008 but couldn't find work at all last year. He turned 25 in March.

You would think there's room at receiver on Buffalo's roster. Terrell Owens and Josh Reed weren't re-signed. But the Bills had a pretty deep group last year and have youngsters worth looking at.

If Gailey sticks with his plan of keeping five receivers, then Jackson could be in trouble.

Lee Evans is the No. 1 receiver. The Bills also have James Hardy (a 2008 second-round pick), Steve Johnson (a 2008 seventh-round pick the organization has been intrigued by), Roscoe Parrish (a dangerous punt returner) and Marcus Easley (a fourth-round pick this spring).

"The wide receiver position is open," Jackson said. "I can come in here and get a starting spot, No. 2 or No. 3 spot. I got a lot of opportunity here ahead of me.

"I think I've made a good impression. I'm not gone right now, so I must be doing something good."

What AFC Easterners under most pressure?

June, 28, 2010
6/28/10
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NFL.com senior analyst Pat Kirwan wrote a column about the 16 players (actually 17) he believes to be under the most pressure to perform in 2010.

Four AFC East players made the list, which Kirwan explained is for players whose "teams have put the onus on them to succeed, and if they don't come through, their teams will likely disappoint."

12. James Hardy, Bills receiver: The 41st pick of the 2008 draft has an injury history. The Bills need a receiver to emerge opposite Lee Evans with Terrell Owens and Josh Reed no longer on the roster.

13. Matt Slauson, Jets guard: Kirwan suggested Slauson will have to replace perennial Pro Bowl left guard Alan Faneca. That might happen, but I disagree there's a serious amount of pressure on Slauson. He was a sixth-round draft choice last year and was inactive for 13 games. Plus, the Jets drafted guard Vladimir Ducasse in the second round two months ago.

14. Charlie Anderson and Koa Misi, Dolphins outside linebackers: They made Kirwan's list in tandem because the Dolphins lost 16 sacks when Joey Porter and Jason Taylor departed. I'm surprised not to see Cameron Wake's name included. Porter singled out Wake when publicly ripping the Dolphins in February.

Bills minicamp notes and observations

June, 25, 2010
6/25/10
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills wrapped up their three-day minicamp Friday and broke for the summer. Here are some random thoughts from their five practices ...
  • It was difficult to get any kind of idea what the offense will look like. Not only did head coach Chan Gailey rotate his top three quarterbacks through first-team rotations, but he also did the same with his skill players. For example, in a seven-on-seven drill Thursday afternoon, Trent Edwards took the "first-team" reps, but his touchdown passes went to Chad Jackson and undrafted rookie David Nelson.
  • [+] EnlargeChan Gailey
    AP Photo/David DupreyIf Chan Gailey knows who his starting quarterback will be, he didn't tip his hand during minicamp.
  • I'm no scout, but I thought Edwards looked better than Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm. Edwards threw a nice ball and didn't seem to make as many mistakes as Fitzpatrick and Brohm did.Brohm did close out the last practice well. Shortly after throwing an interception right to linebacker Andra Davis, he came back in a two-minute drill and found Donald Jones for a touchdown on the final play of minicamp.
  • Wide receiver James Hardy, the 41st overall pick two years ago, looked like he still was getting into shape. Gailey said Friday that Hardy had been slowed down this spring but didn't say why. Turns out Hardy underwent sports hernia surgery after last season and couldn't work out for six weeks, a league source said.
  • Buffalo's defensive backs have incredible hands. There's an old saying that if defensive backs could catch, then they would be wide receivers. But when I watched the Bills' secondary go through individual drills, the ball rarely touched the turf.
  • Running back Marshawn Lynch didn't look obviously out of place for having missed almost every voluntary offseason workout, but Gailey noted Lynch was behind the rest of the offense in terms of knowing the playbook."I don't think he's caught up," Gailey said. "You can't miss that much and be caught up, but he seems to be a fairly quick study."
  • Aaron Schobel still appears on Buffalo's roster at outside linebacker, even though the two-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher hasn't shown up all spring or summer and came close to announcing his retirement two weeks ago. Gailey called the July 29 start to training camp a "natural" deadline. "Our stance hasn't changed," Gailey said. "Nothing has changed. We would have liked to have him here, but he chose not to. He's got a tough decision in his life to make, and we understand that. It's not like we don't understand. We do. He'll have a lot of catching up to do when he gets here."
  • Left tackle Demetrius Bell sat out the entire offseason while recovering from knee surgery, but Gailey said Bell will be ready to participate when training camp opens.
  • The Bills have one of the league's best kicker-punter combinations in Rian Lindell and Brian Moorman. The club didn't bother to bring in any other legs. The Bills didn't spend much time practicing field goals, but when they did Lindell was perfect, hitting from as deep as 53 yards by my spot.
  • Compared to the other AFC East workouts I attended, the Bills were quieter and more reserved -- probably due to the fact they're installing a new offense and learning a 3-4 defense. The Miami Dolphins have that militaristic feel under barking head coach Tony Sparano, while the New York Jets are highly animated with a lot of trash talk going back and forth between the offense and defense.

On the radar: James Hardy

June, 24, 2010
6/24/10
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NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills receiver James Hardy is opposed to me writing this story.

[+] EnlargeJames Hardy
Brett Davis/US PresswireBuffalo Bills wide receiver James Hardy needs to make an impression in his third season.
"My whole thing is, I like to fly below the radar," Hardy told me after Wednesday's double minicamp session. "I know people have their doubts about me. That's OK."

When considering the Bills' offense, Hardy often gets overlooked as the potential No. 2 option opposite Lee Evans.

The reason Hardy has been disregarded is that he enters his third NFL season with a scrawny body of work. Injuries have limited him to 16 games, three starts and 10 receptions for 96 yards.

The Bills had high hopes when they drafted him 41st overall out of Indiana University. He was the fourth receiver off the board, taken one slot ahead of Eddie Royal and seven ahead of DeSean Jackson. Hardy scored 36 touchdowns in 36 games for Indiana, where he also played basketball as a freshman.

He's a good-looking target who would appear to be a dream on third downs and in the red zone. He's 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds.

He got off to a promising NFL start. In Week 2 of his rookie season, he scored a 7-yard touchdown with 4:10 left to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars. By Week 5, he was starting. But he lacked the consistency to remain in the lineup and tore a knee ligament in the penultimate game.

Hardy started last season on the physically unable to perform list. He was activated in time for the Bills to fire head coach Dick Jauron. They also had Terrell Owens and weren't too interested in rushing Hardy back.

Due to Hardy's work during rehab and extensive community service work around Buffalo and in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind., his teammates voted him the Bills' representative for the Ed Block Courage Award.

"Yeah, I have a chip on my shoulder," Hardy said, "and I still feel like a rookie who still has to prove himself in many ways. But my expectations are just as high as when I came out of Indiana. I still plan on big things."

AFC East wire: Miami's options at No. 2

May, 30, 2010
5/30/10
12:37
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Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo News' Allen Wilson wonders just how long free-agent wide receiver Terrell Owens will be out of work.

Also from Wilson: Is this the year James Hardy emerges as an impact wide receiver?

A day after his passing, the Press-Democrat's Robert Rubino remembers a classic Dennis Hopper commercial filmed in the Buffalo Bills' locker room with Bruce Smith's shoes.

Miami Dolphins

Dolphins quarterback Pat White assesses his progress. “I have a year more experience in the system,” White said. “Great teachers in the room, from coaches to the other quarterbacks. I listen to what they have to say, try to learn from them and do my best to try to help this team out as much as possible.”

The Dolphins outside linebacker position is a work in progress, writes the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson.

Now that the Dolphins have a true No. 1 receiver in Brandon Marshall, the team has a lot of options for the No. 2 slot. Third-round draft pick, lineman John Jerry, was working with the Dolphins starters at Saturday's OTAs.

New England Patriots

ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss has 10 quick hit thoughts on this NFL offseason Sunday.

After receiving a posthumous doctorate of human letters on behalf of his father at UMass Lowell on Sunday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft held a joint news conference. The two touched on the status of the collective bargaining agreement and the possibility of another cold-weather stadium hosting a Super Bowl.

The Boston Globe's Albert Breer asks, in the wake of ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer declaring the Patriots offense "exposed": Is the Patriots spread going dead?

New York Jets

ESPN New York's Rich Cimini gives a weekend rundown of Jets news.

Jets coach Rex Ryan took in the first game of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals. According to the Chicago Tribune's Luis Arroyave, Ryan wore wore a No. 00 Blackhawks jersey with the name "Griswold" on the back (a reference to National Lampoon's "Christmas Vacation").

Hanover Township Mayor John Sheridan calls the 2014 Super Bowl in Morris county, "the biggest event of the decade," in terms of economical impact on local businesses.

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