AFC East: Nickell Robey

Marrone: Rotation led to Graham sitting

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Buffalo Bills' 22-10 loss to the San Diego Chargers:
    Graham
  • One of the game's more curious decisions was the Bills' choice to start Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore -- and not Corey Graham -- at cornerback. Graham, who has arguably been the Bills' best cornerback this season, emphasized in the locker room that he "hasn't earned anything" but admitted, "I'll be standing here lying if I said I didn't want to start." Coach Doug Marrone said the Bills "rotate guys in" at cornerback that led to Graham starting the game on the bench. McKelvin, who allowed a 49-yard Malcom Floyd catch and committed a 31-yard defensive pass interference penalty, wasn't in the locker room by the time reporters entered.
  • Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was blunt when speaking about the offense's struggles. "We sucked on third downs," Watkins said. While third downs were a problem, the Bills (43 percent) actually fared better than the Chargers (38 percent) and performed better than their average through their first two games (33.3 percent).
  • The Bills exited Sunday's game with three official injuries: left guard Chris Williams (back), wide receiver Marcus Easley (knee), and safety Da'Norris Searcy (ankle). Not on that list was cornerback Nickell Robey, who was replaced by Ron Brooks later in the game. Brooks called the move a coach's decision and said Robey's health was fine.
LATROBE, Pa. -- The Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers will hold two days of joint practices this week at St. Vincent College, which hosts the Steelers' training camp.

Wednesday's session will kick off at 2:55 p.m. ET, followed by a practice Thursday (5:30 p.m. ET) and a preseason game Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET) at Heinz Field.

To preview the joint practices, ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters Mike Rodak (Bills) and Scott Brown (Steelers) answer three questions on their teams.

EJ Manuel
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesBuffalo Bills fans will take note of how EJ Manuel practices against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What has been your biggest storyline of camp?

Rodak: Far and away it's been the development of EJ Manuel. Entering his second season, the pressure is on Manuel to take the Bills to the playoffs. He has more help this season than he did as a rookie. The Bills, as we all know by now, traded their 2015 first-round pick to move up for Sammy Watkins, who has been everything as advertised so far. Watkins has been Manuel's best friend on the practice field, snagging everything thrown his way and stretching the defense vertically. While Watkins hasn't necessarily lit it up in preseason action (three catches for 21 yards in two games), there are no worries about him. The questions remain with Manuel and his abilities as a pocket passer. He took a step forward in last Friday's preseason win in Carolina, but he's been inconsistent in camp. Manuel can find Watkins for a big gain on one play, but then drive onlookers mad by patting the ball and taking a sack on the next play.

Brown: I’d have to say it is how much younger the Steelers have gotten, particularly on defense. Eight projected starters on that side of the ball are 27 years old or younger, and rookie Ryan Shazier has already won the starting job alongside Lawrence Timmons at inside linebacker. Shazier headlines a draft class that has created quite a buzz. Second-round pick Stephon Tuitt will start sooner rather than later at left defensive end. Third-round pick Dri Archer is an electric and versatile playmaker who will line up all over the field. Fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant, Watkins’ teammate at Clemson, has a chance to develop into a big-time wide receiver, and could help right away. I have eight of the nine Steelers’ 2014 draft picks making the 53-man roster, and the rookies have indeed shown that much promise during camp.

What is one important question that your team could answer in these joint practices?

Rodak: Is the offensive line's struggles simply a matter of practicing against their own, ferocious defensive line? The Bills' front line hasn't done a great job protecting Manuel in practices this summer. Outside of center Eric Wood, a team captain, there a question marks abound. Seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson has filled in nicely for Cordy Glenn at left tackle, but he's been prone to rookie mistakes. Left guard Chris Williams is out with a back injury, while right guard Kraig Urbik -- a former Steeler -- is being pushed for his job by rookie Cyril Richardson. Finally, right tackle Erik Pears looks to have kept his starting job, but only by default, as second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio has been a disappointment so far. The offensive line has been dominated at times by the Bills' defensive line, which had three Pro Bowlers last season (Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, and Marcell Dareus). If they have breakdowns against the Steelers' defensive line, which will bring a different 3-4 look, then their protection issues extend beyond the talent across the ball in Buffalo.

[+] EnlargePouncey
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarCenter Maurkice Pouncey is one of the high draft picks the Pittsburgh Steelers have used on the offensive line in recent years.
Brown: How much improvement the Steelers have made along the offensive line. I can’t remember the last times hopes were this high for the Steelers’ offensive line, and that is due to the investment they have made in a unit that general manager Kevin Colbert used to be accused of neglecting. Since 2010 the Steelers have used two first-round draft picks and two second-rounds selections on their offensive line and three of those players will start this season. The Steelers also hired offensive line coach Mike Munchak last January, and he is expected to bring everything together up front. The first-team offensive line played well in limited snaps in the Steelers’ preseason opener last Saturday night. Now the coaches get to see how it fares against a Bills team that is stout up front and plays a different scheme than what the offense is used to practicing against. The two practices should give the Steelers a better gauge of where they are up front.

Who are a few players on your team that the opposing club might be looking down on the roster to say, "Who is that?"

Rodak: He's been a star of "Hard Knocks," but wide receiver Chris Hogan has been rising steadily since OTAs. At 6-foot-1, Hogan is a former college lacrosse player who brings some toughness to the Bills in the slot. He's not as short and shifty as a prototypical slot man like Wes Welker, but Hogan's hands are among the surest on the team. He also has some speed and can stretch the field vertically. He's been running with the first team and should continue to be in the mix this week. On defense, I'd look out for cornerback Nickell Robey. At 5-foot-8, 165 pounds, he's the smallest player on the team but plays as tough as any defensive back on the roster. Robey went undrafted last season but won the Bills' nickel cornerback job and was part of an underrated defense led by former coordinator Mike Pettine. You might see Robey disrupt the pocket as a blitzer, but he also has a knack for being around the ball, and should make for a compelling, competitive match-up with Lance Moore in the slot.

Brown: The No. 1 player would probably have to be inside linebacker Sean Spence. It was, after all, a preseason game against the Bills almost two years ago when Spence ripped up his left knee and had to be carted off the field. His career hung in the balance in the aftermath of a devastating injury and even his own position coach, Keith Butler, later said it would be a miracle if Spence over played again. But watching Spence during his first camp since that injury you would never be able to tell he had torn several ligaments, dislocated his knee cap and sustained nerve damage. Spence has emerged as one of the storylines of camp, and the 2012 third-rounder could really help the Steelers this season. Bills coaches may also be asking about Jordan Dangerfield even though the hard-hitting safety spent training camp with Buffalo last season. Dangerfield as consistently flashed in practice, and he is among the longshots who appears to be putting themselves in position to make the 53-man roster. The separation among the contenders and pretenders as far as making the team has started this week, and the two practices against the Bills will help the Steelers’ coaches in their evaluations.

Camp Confidential: Buffalo Bills

August, 4, 2014
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- If you had asked about Donald Trump or Jon Bon Jovi at Buffalo Bills training camp last season, you'd have gotten some odd looks.

This summer, both are part of the conversation around a team that is making a full-speed charge at a playoff berth after 14 seasons out of the postseason.

As their pending sale and the uncertainty of a new owner hang over training camp at St. John Fisher College, the Bills are trying to push forward in their rebuilding efforts. Another 6-10 record, like that posted by first-year coach Doug Marrone and rookie quarterback EJ Manuel last season, won't be accepted.

"We haven’t been in the playoffs in a long time, and we owe it to the fans, our late Hall of Fame owner [Ralph Wilson] and everybody in this business to show that we’re not the Bills anymore," general manager Doug Whaley said last month. "We want to be a playoff team. We’re planning to be a playoff team, and that’s our goal."

Whaley and CEO Russ Brandon were brimming with excitement after they swung a draft-night trade for Sammy Watkins, college football's top receiver last season. Through two weeks of training camp, Watkins has looked the part.

That's welcome news for Manuel, a first-round pick whose uneven performance last season didn't inspire much confidence. This season, he could benefit from a big-time talent like Watkins.

"[Manuel] doesn’t have to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders and he has to go out and win," Whaley said. "We’ve surrounded him with some people where, if he does his job, we should be OK."

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Bill WippertThe Bills traded up to get Sammy Watkins, and the receiver has performed as advertised so far in camp.
Three reasons for optimism

1. Another year under the belt for Manuel. That's the mantra we've heard from the Bills' brass since the start of the offseason. The expectation is that Manuel, having experienced the rigors of the rookie quarterback experience, will be more comfortable in his second season. Whaley often points out that the 2012 draft skewed the way rookie quarterbacks are evaluated, as its top quarterbacks experienced immediate success. He insists Manuel is on the right path. With a full offseason to work with offensive coordinator Nate Hackett, anything but an improvement from Manuel would be a disappointment.

2. By adding Watkins in a high-stakes, draft-day trade, the Bills gave Manuel his best chance at success in the NFL. Watkins will be Manuel's safety net, snagging anything within reach and keeping defenses honest in the deep game. The best-case scenario is that Watkins' production as a rookie is on par with some of his counterparts in recent drafts -- A.J. Green and Julio Jones. That would be a boost to a Bills offense that ranked 30th in passing touchdowns last season. But it's not the only addition; the Bills also traded for Mike Williams and added running backs Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon, injecting more talent around Manuel.

3. The Bills possess the NFL's best defensive line, possessing three players -- Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus -- who were voted to the Pro Bowl last season. This is an athletic, ferocious unit that has disrupted practices this training camp with its pressure on quarterbacks. It will be tough to match the franchise-record 57 sacks the Bills' defense posted last season, but this front line still has the potential to give opposing offensive lines major headaches. Defensive end Jerry Hughes, coming off a double-digit sack season, has looked strong this summer and shouldn't be overlooked.

Three reasons for pessimism

1. The loss of Kiko Alonso to a season-ending knee injury is crushing. The Bills don't have one player who can match his production -- playing on every defensive snap and finishing third in the NFL with 159 tackles. They'll have to do it with a mixture of Nigel Bradham, who is suspended for the season opener, and Preston Brown, a rookie. That will be a weaker point in the Bills defense, as will safety, at which the departure of Jairus Byrd through free agency can't be overstated. His return from a foot injury last October settled down a rocky pass defense, and the Bills did nothing to replace him this offseason.

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel, Tashaun Gipson
AP Photo/David RichardE.J. Manuel will need to show marked improvement if the Bills are to make the leap to playoff contender.
2. Part of it might have been the inexperience of their quarterbacks, but the Bills allowed 48 sacks last season, fourth worst in the league. They added free-agent left guard Chris Williams, but he doesn't have a sparkling track record as a starter. At left tackle, Cordy Glenn played well last season, but his status is cloudy. He remains on the nonfootball illness list. The right side of the offensive line was suspect last season, but the Bills might not be able to find better options than incumbent guard Kraig Urbik or tackle Erik Pears. No matter what weapons Manuel has around him, poor offensive line play will doom the Bills' offense.

3. We started our reasons for optimism with Manuel, so it's only appropriate that we end our reasons for pessimism with him. Manuel is the linchpin for the Bills' success under Marrone and Whaley. Some young quarterbacks grow and become important pieces of playoff-caliber teams. Others don't. There were times last season when Manuel looked more like Mark Sanchez or Blaine Gabbert than he did Russell Wilson or Ben Roethlisberger. Despite the addition of Watkins and the quality of the Bills' other offensive pieces, does Manuel have what it takes to make the winning throws? The jury is very much still out on that one.

Observation deck

  • The Bills began last season running a no-huddle offense with some option elements. The pace slowed when Manuel was sidelined for more than a month in midseason with a knee injury. The feeling early in camp is that we'll see less designed runs from Manuel this season. The Bills have added more weapons at receiver and bolstered their backfield, so don't expect Manuel to be Cam Newton with his feet.
  • Little went right offensively for the Bills last season. One particular area of futility was in the red zone, in which they ranked 29th in touchdown efficiency. Marrone has made the red zone a "point of emphasis" in camp, adding an extra 7-on-7 period to the end of each practice. The results have begun to show, with Manuel completing four of five passes for touchdowns at one point last week.
  • When the Bills signed Corey Graham and drafted Ross Cockrell this offseason, there was some thought that slot cornerback Nickell Robey could slide down the depth chart. Graham began organized team activities in Robey's spot with the first team, but that quickly changed. Two weeks into camp, Robey looks to have that spot locked down. An undrafted rookie last season, Robey has the instincts and the ball skills of a savvy vet.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Through nearly two weeks of organized team activities, plenty of attention has been paid to the Buffalo Bills' smallest player: cornerback Nickell Robey.

Robey
Listed at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Robey impressed coaches in training camp last summer. Despite being undrafted, Robey essentially became a key cog in the Bills' defense, holding down the fort at nickelback the entire season.

Then came along Corey Graham. The Bills signed Graham to a four-year, $16 million contract, even though the team already had two starting cornerbacks (Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin) entrenched on either side of the field. Through the first four OTAs, it was Graham taking first-team reps at nickelback, not Robey.

That changed Wednesday. When the Bills' sub package came onto the field for 11-on-11 drills it was Robey in the slot, flanked by Ron Brooks and Mario Butler at cornerback. Graham then came on with the second team.

At this point in the offseason, the change doesn't mean much. However, it shows that Robey is still very much in the Bills' plans despite Graham's signing. It's a battle that will likely continue through training camp.

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had high praise for Robey after Wednesday's practice.

"He's certainly going to have a role," Schwartz said. "He's been one of our best players through our OTAs so far."

But does Robey have the height to succeed in Schwartz's scheme?

"I'll tell you what," Schwartz said. "If you measure heart -- if you measure things like that -- he's 6-foot-10."
With three of their 10 organized team activities in the books, the Buffalo Bills have just scratched the surface of the team-building process that will continue through the summer.

During last week's practices there were impressive catches, dropped passes, a few interceptions, and even a fumble. Viewed individually, none of it is of much consequence this time of year.

But if patterns begin to develop, that's where we can begin to draw more substantial conclusions, both good and bad.

With the Bills set to begin their second week of OTAs this week, here are some areas where trends have cropped up. We'll be looking to see if they continue:

Robey
Robey's role: When the Bills signed Corey Graham to a four-year, $16 million deal in March, we scratched our heads a little. Graham is a good player, but the Bills' top three cornerbacks last season -- Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, and Nickell Robey -- were a strength of the team and all were returning. When the Bills hosted some of the draft's best cornerbacks on pre-draft visits, we continued to scratch our heads. When the Bills selected cornerback Ross Cockrell in the fourth round, it gave an even greater indication that something might change at cornerback.

With McKelvin and Gilmore out of OTAs this week because of hip surgery, the Bills' first-team cornerbacks were Graham and Ron Brooks. The next group on the field was Cockrell and Brandon Smith, followed by Robey and Mario Butler. That wasn't shocking to us, because Robey isn't considered an "outside" cornerback. Rather, he excelled in the slot last season. But when the Bills' first nickel unit came onto the field this week, it was Cockrell and Brooks outside with Graham in the slot. The next wave featured Robey in the slot with two younger players manning the outside.

What do we make of that? It could mean that Jim Schwartz doesn't value the 5-foot-7 Robey in the same way that Mike Pettine did. Would that mean Robey's roster spot is in jeopardy? Probably not, but it could indicate reduced playing time for him. The other possibility is that the Bills are simply tinkering with their personnel, seeing what they have in Brooks in what could be a make-or-break training camp, while getting Cockrell on the field as much as they can. We'll be watching to see whether this trend continues this week in OTAs.

Duking it out: Who will replace Jairus Byrd in the starting lineup at safety? The top two contenders are Da'Norris Searcy and Duke Williams. With Aaron Williams (shoulder surgery) out of OTAs this week, Duke Williams and Searcy made up the first team in the back end. That means we're in wait-and-see mode as far as who will get the first crack next to Aaron Williams. If he returns this week, I would lean toward Duke Williams remaining with the first team and Searcy sliding down to the second team with Jonathan Meeks. If Aaron Williams doesn't return, the question about who will get the first chance to replace Byrd will remain on the back burner.

Two-headed attack: As noted by WGR 550's Joe Buscaglia in his Friday practice notes, the Bills put Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller on the field together for some selected plays in OTAs this week. It's something I can remember seeing early in training camp last summer but rarely during the regular season. With Spiller back to full health, offensive coordinator Nate Hackett may try to vary his usage within the offense. Spiller's receiving numbers dipped last season, but if he can be motioned into the slot with Jackson remaining in the backfield, he will cause matchup problems for defenses.

Dixon's position: The Bills' signing of Anthony Dixon added a low-cost depth player to their backfield. When the Bills traded for Bryce Brown earlier this month, it signaled that Dixon may be used more as a fullback or goal-line back than a tailback. So far in OTAs, that hasn't been the case. Physically, Dixon is a far cry from Frank Summers or Evan Rodriguez, and his body type is more in line with a traditional running back. Brown was sidelined Friday with an undisclosed injury, and with fellow running back Ronnie Wingo dealing with a hamstring injury, Dixon got plenty of work at tailback. Ultimately, I think there is room for both Dixon and Brown on the 53-man roster, especially if Dixon contributes on special teams.
It's been a simmering debate all spring in Buffalo: Where will Corey Graham line up within the Buffalo Bills' defense?

In truth, the Bills and Graham don't even know for sure. The assumption is that when the team ramps up its on-field work for organized team activities in two weeks, Graham will see time at both safety and cornerback.

With two months until training camp and nearly four months until the start of the regular season, the Bills have time to figure things out with Graham. But to say that Graham will be a starter at safety is jumping the gun.

[+] EnlargeCorey Graham
AP Photo/Nick WassCorey Graham has the ability to play safety or cornerback for the Buffalo Bills.
To help set the record straight on Graham, let's circle back on what general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone have said about Graham since his signing -- and where the idea of Graham as a safety has arisen:

  • Marrone on March 25: "What's interesting about him is that he can play an outside corner and play it well. We have two good corners coming back. He can play nickel and start at nickel, and that would be a good competition in there. ... He may be in the mix back there at the safety spot. ... There are a lot of things that we've been talking about with Corey and with ourselves as far as the defensive staff. ... We'll go out there in the OTAs, and it'll be the same thing. I like to -- and I always have -- move some guys around a little bit. That's the time where you do it. As you get closer to the season, you don't want to be doing that stuff."
  • Whaley on April 25: "Right now he’s got the flexibility to do both [cornerback and safety]. ... I think that’s going to be worked out either way. That’s more of a coaching question. A lot of times it works out because we get into camp and if we have injuries at safety then he has the flexibility to move to safety. If there’s a rash of injuries at corner, he’ll be predominantly a corner. At the end of camp I’ll be able to give you a better answer."
  • Marrone on May 10: "His primary position obviously is corner. But he is also someone that can play the safety position."

While the Bills have floated the possibility of Graham playing safety, Whaley's message has consistently been that the battle to replace Jairus Byrd will come down to Jonathan Meeks, Da'Norris Searcy, and Duke Williams:

  • Whaley on March 14: "The young guys we have on the roster -- Duke Williams, Meeks and Searcy -- we think that competition between those three, we'll get a guy who will come out and help us win."
  • Whaley on March 24: "We’ll always keep our eyes open, but we’re very confident with the guys we have on campus. I know a lot of people have some question marks. We don’t."
  • Whaley on April 25: "We believe in the guys we have on campus. Meeks and Searcy and Duke Williams. We think it’s time for one of those guys to step up. It won’t preclude us, if we see a safety there [in the draft] who can come in and help us we’ll go get him."

In our view, it's too early to pencil in Graham as the starter at safety alongside Aaron Williams. Graham's NFL experience with the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears has come at cornerback, especially in the slot, and to project him as a safety at this point in the offseason would be premature.

No matter where Graham plays, the Bills paid him as if they are expecting significant contributions from the veteran. Graham's contract averages $4.075 million per season, which ranks in the top 30 among NFL cornerbacks and top 25 among NFL safeties.

Because of that, I think Graham has a legitimate chance to overtake Nickell Robey as the Bills' top interior cornerback. Marrone said at the NFL owners meetings in March that the modern NFL requires teams to have two quality slot cornerbacks.

The Bills could have that in Graham and Robey, but given Graham's salary, it would be disappointing if he is the fourth cornerback on the field. Unless the Bills feel comfortable moving Graham to safety full time, Robey's playing time could be lessened this season.

That's not to say that Robey didn't have a good season last year. He did, and he's a high-character player within the Bills' locker room. But between the Bills signing Graham and drafting cornerback Ross Cockrell in the fourth round, there are signs that Robey may not fit as well within Jim Schwartz's scheme as he did within Mike Pettine's system.

Double Coverage: Bills at Patriots

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
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C.J. Spiller and Tom BradyGetty ImagesTom Brady, right, and the Patriots hope to secure a postseason bye with a win vs. C.J. Spiller's Bills.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills will end the regular season the way they started it, by facing each other.

The Patriots needed a late drive to beat the Bills 23-21 in the opener, but the teams went in mostly opposite directions over the next 15 weeks.

Unfortunately for the Bills, the script is a familiar one. They haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 1999, the longest active drought, so now the focus turns to next season.

Meanwhile, the Patriots enter another finale with playoff positioning in mind after having clinched the AFC East title for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons. The Patriots could actually thank the Bills for that, because Buffalo’s 19-0 victory against Miami last Sunday handed the division crown to New England.

Here to preview the matchup are ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters Mike Rodak (Bills) and Mike Reiss (Patriots).

Reiss: Mike, this seems pretty obvious, but coach Doug Marrone is finishing his first season, and a win against the Patriots could go a long way toward the foundation he’s attempting to establish. What signs, if any, have you seen from Marrone that the Bills are on the right track?

Rodak: Mike, I think the past two games have said something about this team. After their 27-6 loss to Tampa on Dec. 8, the season was essentially over for Buffalo. They could have packed it in and waited until next season to make improvement. Instead, they have strung together their first back-to-back wins of the season. Does that matter in the long run? Probably not, but Marrone often talks about establishing a sense of accountability and resiliency in his team, and there have been some signs of that over the past two weeks.

Mike, the Patriots have shown plenty of resiliency this season too. Is this the best coaching job you've seen from Bill Belichick?

Reiss: Belichick and his staff have been coaching their tails off, no doubt about that. I have always rated 2008 at the top of the mountain, because when you lose Tom Brady on the 15th offensive play of a season and still manage to go 11-5, that’s pretty remarkable from this viewpoint. I think we’ve seen in recent years what often happens when a superstar quarterback is lost for the season -- the 2011 Colts with Peyton Manning as one example, which cost team president Bill Polian his job. We also see how the Packers are struggling this season without Aaron Rodgers. The Patriots have been hit hard by injuries this season too and also have quite a few young players who have been asked to take on significant roles. So it’s been impressive.

As for young players being asked to carry the load for the Bills, the big question from here is if EJ Manuel is a franchise quarterback to build around. What is your opinion on Manuel in that regard?

Rodak: That is a tough call, and it's going to be the biggest question Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley will need to address this offseason. From a leadership standpoint, Manuel has a presence and a poise that any successful quarterback needs. But it hasn't translated to consistency on the field. Since returning from his second knee injury, Manuel has thrown six interceptions and shown wild swings in accuracy as a passer. The Bills seem content with pressing forward with Manuel and allowing him to develop with live action each Sunday. That is the approach most teams take with young quarterbacks; it doesn't always work out. In most cases, deciding when to make a change is difficult. However Manuel's career unfolds, the Bills would be smart to have a Plan B, even as soon as next season. With J.P. Losman, that Plan B was Kelly Holcomb. With Trent Edwards, it was Ryan Fitzpatrick. Ultimately, neither of those veteran backups put the Bills in the right spot to win, which is why I think the organization must aim higher when hedging their bets with Manuel. Drafting another quarterback in the first round isn't an option that should be immediately dismissed.

This week, Marrone mentioned how the Patriots have several rookies playing roles on both sides of the ball. Watching undrafted defensive tackle Joe Vellano back in spring camps, I never would have thought he would be contributing as much as he has this season. But can the Patriots rely on Vellano and their other younger players in the playoffs? It doesn't seem that long ago when safety Patrick Chung, then in his second season, botched a fake punt that cost the Patriots in a divisional playoff loss to the Jets.

Reiss: Mike, I’d be shocked if the Bills take another quarterback in the first round. If they do in 2014, Buffalo wings on me from Duff’s for the next five years every time the Patriots come to western New York.

As for the Patriots, the rookies playing the largest roles are now [receiver] Aaron Dobson, [defensive tackle] Chris Jones, [cornerback] Logan Ryan and [punter] Ryan Allen. The others are sprinkled in from more of a complementary standpoint or as a short-term fill-in (e.g., Josh Kline at left guard vs. Baltimore). Vellano, for one, has seen his snaps decrease in recent weeks in favor of second-year defensive tackle Sealver Siliga. Anytime a team has rookies and youngsters playing front-line roles, it comes with some added risk. But I’d say this about the Patriots this season: As young as they are in certain spots, no moment seems too big for most of the players on the roster.

Defensively, the Bills look strong up front. What do you see from them on that side of the ball?

Rodak: They certainly are, Mike. At this point, it's safe to call it the best defensive line in the league. The Bills have benefited from career seasons from both Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, who are both serious candidates for the Pro Bowl. Same with Mario Williams, who is enjoying his best season since signing his monster deal with Buffalo. But there have also been some under-the-radar contributors. Whaley's offseason swap of linebacker Kelvin Sheppard for defensive end Jerry Hughes has paid dividends. You can add Hughes to the list of players having career seasons under first-year defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. In the secondary, that theme continues with Leodis McKelvin, who had four shaky years before finding his groove this season. The Bills have also gotten big things from their smallest player -- 5-foot-7 slot cornerback Nickell Robey, who went undrafted in the spring but has played like an early-round pick. There have been bad moments for the defense, but in general, they came mostly earlier in the season. Right now, it looks like a unit on the rise.

Mike, one area where the Bills have been vulnerable at points this season has been their run defense. They rank 20th in the NFL, allowing 4.2 yards per rush. Is the Patriots' running game capable of exploiting that weakness? And perhaps more importantly, will the Patriots need their ground attack to advance in the playoffs?

Reiss: They are certainly capable of doing it, and last Sunday’s win against the Ravens is the evidence. The Patriots entered the game with a mindset of being physical, and they won the battle of the line of scrimmage, churning out 142 yards on the ground against a sturdy Ravens front that struggled against some zone runs. The Patriots ran it 34 times and had 28 dropbacks in the game. I don’t think they necessarily have to have that type of split in the playoffs to win, but like most offenses, this attack is at its best when it's most balanced. Ball security was a big issue the first few months of the season, mostly with running backs Stevan Ridley, and to a lesser degree with LeGarrette Blount (fumble in Oct. 6 loss to the Bengals), but that has subsided. One of the big keys with the running game last Sunday is it helped the Patriots in the red zone, where they are still recalibrating after losing tight end Rob Gronkowski to a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 8.

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Upon Further Review: Bills Week 16

December, 23, 2013
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A review of four hot issues from the Buffalo Bills' 19-0 win over the Miami Dolphins:

Jackson
Jackson reportedly has broken ribs: The Buffalo News reported after the game that running back Fred Jackson played through broken ribs. Jackson, 32, was probable for the game after sitting out Wednesday's practice. It's hardly the first time that he's played through injury this season, and coach Doug Marrone noted that after the game. "Early on, I think maybe some other players -- not talking about players on this team, I'm talking about other players that have had what he has -- I'm not sure they can go out and perform like that," Marrone said. "I give him a lot of credit and I admire him for that."

Robey stands out: Undrafted rookie cornerback Nickell Robey continues to be one of the top performers on the Bills' defense. On Sunday, he had two sacks, three total tackles for loss and a pass defensed. The slot cornerback is undersized but plays with great instinct, according to Marrone. "He's a very good definition of instinct," Marrone said. "When you come on here and you just have the feel for the slot, has a feel for the routes, has a feel for things going on out there and he's done a nice job." Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said that the team was shocked that Robey, who played at USC, wasn't drafted in April.

Goodwin has repeat injury: Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin left in the first quarter and did not return. It was announced as a knee injury, and Marrone said it apparently has been a recurring issue for the rookie. "It was the same injury ... he's had this injury before where it kind of goes and comes and we call it a knee," Marrone said. "I don't know the extent of it, [but] obviously it's worse than it has been in the other games."

Reason for Dareus' benching: Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was benched for the first quarter after an undisclosed team rules violation. WGR 550 reported after the game that Dareus has been "habitually late" to team meetings this season.

Upon Further Review: Bills Week 13

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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TORONTO -- A review of four hot issues from the Buffalo Bills' 34-31 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons:

Robey frustrated with call: The Falcons' final scoring drive of regulation saw a barrage of penalty flags, the final one being a pass interference call against cornerback Nickell Robey. The undrafted rookie got tangled up with receiver Harry Douglas in the corner of the end zone, with both players falling to the ground as the pass sailed in. In the locker room after the game, Robey aired his frustrations about the call. "I was just playing football, trying to make a play. I felt like he pushed me more than I held him. I felt like when the ball was coming, it was underthrown and when I was trying to come back to the ball, he extended his arm and I fell. I was just trying to make a ball, playing football, you know? Coaches just kept telling me to play. I felt like that was just a bad call," he said. Coach Doug Marrone said he didn't have a good view of the play but will review it and may include it in his weekly report to the NFL office.

Spiller
Bills secondary expected loose officiating: Cornerback Leodis McKelvin said that the Bills had done their homework on official Walt Anderson and his crew and were expecting fewer penalty flags than the norm. "They let you play. They let you hold. They let you do whatever you gotta do," he said. Robey echoed the same thought. "They let us play all day today," he said. Asked about the officiating, Marrone did not provide an opinion, saying, "You guys are trying to get [me] in trouble. I can't do it. My wife will kill me."

Spiller hobbled, returns: The Bills never officially announced an injury, but running back C.J. Spiller was limping early in the game. It's unclear if it was related to his nagging ankle injury, but Marrone said he spoke to running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley, who said Spiller was fine to re-enter the game. Spiller played more sparingly in the second half but broke a 36-yard touchdown run and finished with 149 rushing yards. "He goes in there and makes a big run, gets nicked up, starts limping a little bit, gets back in there," Marrone said. "I think it's kind of been that type of season for C.J."

Marrone ignores crowd noise, loud or not: The crowd of 38,969 in the Rogers Centre on Sunday was a mix of Falcons and Bills fans, so loud cheers could be heard whenever either team made big plays. That's not entirely the "home-field" advantage the Bills are looking for, but asked after the game about the effect the crowd has on players, Marrone gave an interesting response. "It's funny, when you play and you're out there, even when you're coaching you really don't know what's going on," he said. "I think people think players feed off the crowd and things like that. That may have happened, but basically you have to feed off each other." Asked a follow-up question, though, Marrone changed his tone. "I thought the crowd today was good. They were on our side. They were giving us the boost that we needed," he said.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills cornerback Nickell Robey (ankle) was added to the team's injury report Wednesday but participated fully in practice.

Coach Doug Marrone said Robey "rolled his ankle" in practice last week, during the Bills' bye week, but he is expected to play Sunday in Toronto.

The undrafted rookie from USC has been a bright spot for Buffalo this season, holding his own at slot cornerback from the start of the regular season.

Here is the Bills' full injury report from Wednesday, their third practice of the week but the first day they were required to release a practice participation report:

FULL PARTICIPATION
WR Stevie Johnson (groin)
WR Robert Woods (ankle)
CB Nickell Robey (ankle)

Halftime thoughts: Bills 10, Chiefs 3

November, 3, 2013
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Offering some halftime thoughts as the Buffalo Bills lead the Kansas City Chiefs, 10-3:

1. Jeff Tuel, starting in place of Thad Lewis, has arguably outplayed Alex Smith to this point. Tuel was able to connect on a 59-yard touchdown to Marquise Goodwin, which has been the difference early in this game. Smith and Tuel are both completing a lot of shorter, manageable passes, as was expected. Despite the Chiefs entering the game with the NFL's best pass rush, they haven't gotten to Tuel yet today. The Bills, on the other hand, have two sacks.

2. Tuel's one interception came in the second quarter on a bad misfire to tight end Scott Chandler. The Chiefs knocked on the door after the turnover, moving to the Bills' 11-yard line, but cornerback Nickell Robey came up with a key tackle on third down -- another solid play by the undrafted rookie who has held his own this season. It doesn't feel like the Chiefs' offense has the punch it needs for this game.

3. C.J. Spiller's week off seems to be having an effect, as he was able to break away from defenders on a 29-yard run in the second quarter. Spiller sat out the first drive of the game and the Bills have used a rotation featuring more Tashard Choice than usual, but when Spiller's been on the field, he's been effective. Spiller has 46 yards on six carries.

4. You have to think field position will be a major factor in the second half. Each team has gone on long, sustained drives early in the game. Expect possessions to be limited in the second half. This one feels like it could come down to a late turnover deciding the outcome.

Bills' midseason rookie report card

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
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Their first eight games are in the books.

Now it's time to grade the Buffalo Bills' rookies as they enter the second half of their first season in the NFL.

Here we go:

LB Kiko Alonso: A No Bills rookie has played better this season. Alonso has yet to come off the field this season, playing every defensive snap for Buffalo. His 298 defensive snaps are also the most of any NFL player through eight games. In addition to a sack and a forced fumble, he remains tied for the NFL lead with four interceptions. The one knock against Alonso, however, is that he had that same stat line through four games. If he can continue to add to his sack, forced fumble, and interception totals in the second half of the season, it will help his case for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He remains in the thick of that race.

CB Nickell Robey: A Walk into the Bills locker room, and few players exude confidence like Robey. Despite being the youngest and smallest player on the Bills' roster, he has been on their steadiest contributors in defense, holding down the fort at nickel cornerback from Week 1. He hasn't been perfect -- he gave up the Saints' first touchdown Sunday on a closely-contested play -- but has shown instincts not often found in rookies. The question for Robey is his ceiling; because of his size, he may not get the chance to play on the outside. In today's NFL, however, the slot cornerback has more value than ever before, and the Bills may have found their guy in Robey.

[+] EnlargeBuffalo's Kiko Alonso
AP Photo/Bill WippertKiko Alsonso is in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
WR Robert Woods: B-plus Woods got off to a hot start when he developed an early rapport with EJ Manuel. His 18.3 yards per reception through Week 4 was the best mark of any rookie in the NFL. Once Manuel was injured in Week 5, Woods' numbers began to tail off. He had just one catch in a loss to the New Orleans Saints, and head coach Doug Marrone admitted afterwards the Bills "need to get him the ball." The biggest problem for Woods has been the Bills' quarterback play. Of the 137 qualifying running backs, receivers, and tight ends in the NFL, Woods ranks 135th with a 43.1 reception per target percentage. However, Woods has yet to drop a pass this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That leads to an interesting hypothetical: How much national attention would Woods be receiving if he was playing with a better quarterback?

WR Marquise Goodwin: B-plus Was tempted to go with another "incomplete" here since Goodwin missed four games with a hand injury, but there is a large enough sample size to evaluate. When Goodwin has been healthy, his big-play ability has been evident. He scored on a 40-yard touchdown against Cincinnati and added a 26-yard catch against New Orleans. He's yet to break off the sort of blink-and-you-missed-it kickoff return we saw (twice) in his preseason debut, but those opportunities will come. Overall, Goodwin has lived up to his billing as a speedster who can stretch defenses. The next step for the third-round pick will be proving himself as a capable all-around receiver.

S Duke Williams: B-minus For all the injuries the Bills endured early this season in their secondary, Williams has seen very little time on defense. For a fourth-round pick, that's not the end of the world; he may simply need more time within the system. Williams has been a consistent contributor in special teams and if Jairus Byrd departs through free agency next offseason, he will have the opportunity to slide into the defensive rotation.

QB EJ Manuel: Incomplete This isn't a cop-out; Manuel has simply been one of the toughest players on the Bills' roster to evaluate to this point. When he's been on the field, Manuel has hardly been a disaster, but he's also been a far cry from the player the Bills will eventually need him to be. His 42.2 QBR ranks 23rd among the 34 qualifiying passers in the NFL, while his 6.57 yards per attempt rank 27th. The problem, of course, is that Manuel hasn't been able to stay on the field. He was hampered by a preseason knee injury and has most recently been sidelined with a sprained LCL. He'll likely return sometime this month, giving him a chance to build momentum heading into what will be a critical sophomore season. Staying healthy will be his top priority.

S Jonathan Meeks: Incomplete Meeks was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return, after injuring his ankle in Week 6. He was almost exclusively a special teams contributor up until the injury. The fifth-round pick will have a chance to return late in the season, and like Williams, will be in the mix in the back-end next offseason.

K Dustin Hopkins: Incomplete After straining his groin prior to the regular-season opener, the Bills kept Hopkins on their roster for five weeks before deciding to place him on injured reserve. Marrone said Hopkins hit a set-back in his rehab when he began practicing kickoffs. Part of the rationale in shutting him down, though, may have been the strong play of Dan Carpenter, his veteran replacement. Carpenter is a free-agent after this season, which should open the door for Hopkins to return as the kicker.

TE Chris Gragg: Incomplete As a seventh-round pick, Gragg is a developmental player who has slowly been worked into game action. The Bills haven't dealt with any injuries to their top two tight ends -- Scott Chandler and Lee Smith -- so Gragg hasn't had many opportunities to see the field. He'll likely be in a competition for a roster spot next training camp.

QB Jeff Tuel: Incomplete It's almost easier to evaluate Tuel based off what he hasn't done, rather than what he has done. Tuel's only live reps came against the Browns in Week 5, replacing an injured Manuel. He went 8-for-20 and threw a pick-six, so when the Bills decided on a starter for their next game, they shied away from Tuel. In general, the Bills seem very reluctant to play Tuel, which for an undrafted rookie is both understandable and a smart move. They may have to turn to Tuel on Sunday if Thad Lewis (ribs) can't play, but as Marrone said this week, Tuel will have to play better than did in Cleveland.
MIAMI -- Through three quarters of the Buffalo Bills' 23-21 win over the Miami Dolphins, something wasn't adding up.

The Dolphins had struggled to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill all season, while the strength of the Bills' defense had been putting pressure on opposing passers. Yet entering the fourth quarter Sunday, the Bills were still without a sack.

That all changed with a thump and a thud when defensive end Mario Williams slammed Tannehill to the turf to stall a Dolphins drive in Bills territory.

A sleeping giant having been awakened, Williams took Tannehill down again three plays later, forcing a fumble that was recovered by teammate Kyle Williams to set-up a go-ahead field goal.

[+] EnlargeNickell Robey
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyRookie Nickell Robey made his first interception count, returning it for a touchdown.
"They were big plays in the game," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin simply said. "Big plays."

It was just what the doctor ordered for the Bills' defense, which had allowed some big plays to the Bengals in an overtime loss last week.

Williams' strip-sack and a pick-six by Nickell Robey in the first quarter bookended what was an otherwise uninspiring performance by both teams.

It was a breakthrough moment for Robey, who jumped in front of a Tannehill pass on the third play of the game and trotted 19 yards for the touchdown. The undrafted rookie, off to a strong start, had come close to making his first career interception in previous games but wasn't able to reel one in until Sunday.

"He's been really close," head coach Doug Marrone said. "I'm out there while you guys are saying '[Wow], great play' and I'm saying, 'Shoot. It's about time.'"

Robey said he was anticipating the throw on a "pivot" route by Dolphins receiver Brandon Gibson.

"It was on film plenty of times," Robey said. "I've seen it, I believed it, and I jumped it."

The USC product is the youngest and smallest player on the Bills' roster, but despite his lack of size and experience he has carved a role as the nickel cornerback.

"You need to have great technique and leverage against taller receivers. That's what I'm always faced with. I'm 5-foot-7," he said. "You just need to know how to play these guys. You can't use your hands a lot like in college. You have to use your feet, and I think that fits perfectly into my game. I'm quick, I'm fast, and I can move. I try to use that as an advantage in my game."

Meanwhile, Williams' two sacks give him 10 for the season, surpassing Bruce Smith (who had nine in 1997) as the most for a Bills player in the first seven games of the season.

"My opportunity presented itself," he said. "Being able to have everybody beside me, and play off each other, it came through."

Grading the Bills' 53: Cornerbacks

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
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Now that the Buffalo Bills have set their 53-man roster, we'll break it down, position by position:

CORNERBACKS

Personnel: Stephon Gilmore (injured), Leodis McKelvin, Nickell Robey, Justin Rogers, Ron Brooks (injured), Brandon Burton, Johnny Adams (practice squad: Brandon Smith)

Talent: C-minus. The strength of this position is at the top, where Gilmore had begun to flash premier cornerback skills before suffering his wrist injury in the preseason. Behind him, the Bills have an undersized group that includes McKelvin (5-foot-10), Rogers (5-foot-11), and Robey (5-foot-8). The problem for the Bills is that they have players who, on most teams, would be used in lesser roles than they have in Buffalo. As a starter, for example, Rogers does not have the physical skills to match up well against some of the better receivers he will face this season.

Depth: D-plus. Robey deserves credit for making the Bills' 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent and looked generally solid in his debut Sunday. But for the Bills to thrust a player like him into a major role (he was the fifth defensive back on the field, an increasingly important position in the NFL) speaks to their other options at the position. The greatest lack of depth here is at No. 2 and No. 3, not as much at the bottom of the depth chart. Look for the Bills to draft a cornerback next season, and for Rogers, Brooks, and others to battle for that last spot.

Reliability: D. There's some experience here, especially with McKelvin, but it remains one of the younger positions on the Bills' roster. Four of the top five options are currently injured or were injured at some point during training camp, and the remaining player, Robey, is a rookie. It's a combination of injury history and lack of experience that earns the position this grade. When the game is on the line, nobody really knows how these players will fare.

Football journey: Nickell Robey

September, 7, 2013
9/07/13
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- For the past several seasons, New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com has filed a weekly feature called a "football journey," a sit-down interview with a lesser-known player that traces his path to the NFL.

For both reporters and readers, it's a welcome opportunity to get to know a player on a more personal level. Even though we may analyze, critique and grade players' performances, listening to these players tell their stories is a reminder that many have fought hard to make it to the highest level of the game.

Starting today, our objective is to bring you a Buffalo Bills "football journey" each week during the season.

Cornerback Nickell Robey was one of two undrafted rookies to make the team this season, along with quarterback Jeff Tuel. The youngest (21 years old) and smallest player (5-foot-8, 165 pounds) on the Bills roster, Robey drew the praise of coach Doug Marrone on Friday:

"He has a role for us. We're happy with the way he's been playing," Marrone said. "He'll be part of some packages that we do. He's been consistent."

Here's the full Q&A with Robey from this week, including his reaction to losing his mother to a heart attack days after signing his letter of intent for USC, and his lofty goals for his rookie season in the NFL:

[+] EnlargeNickell Robey
Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY SportsUndrafted Bills rookie Nickell Robey isn't aiming low with his personal goals for 2013. He wants to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Why he started playing football: "I first started playing football at age 5. The thing that inspired me to play football was my older cousin, Cedric [Cox, a former receiver at Southeast Missouri State]. My dad put a football in my hand when I was a young kid. He always told me I was going to play football and 'make his name great.' Through the whole process, just watching my older cousin play football, taking tips from him -- he taught me how to play the game -- I got older, started getting a mind of my own, started finding out my own talents, and it just branched off from there. Just having fun for the most part, just playing with my friends, stuff like that. That's how it was."

What positions he played: "Pop Warner, I played quarterback and I played safety."

Favorite memory from Frostproof (Fla.) High School: "My favorite memory is when we beat a crosstown rival that had beaten us nine years straight. This would have been the 10th year. We beat them and broke that curse. I had the game-winning touchdown with two minutes left in the game. The [quarterback] threw a fade route in the back of the end zone and I caught it. We won the game. That was my best memory in high school, and I'll never forget that moment."

Role models growing up: "The people that grew up in my neighborhood. My older cousin Alvin Harper played for the Dallas Cowboys and won two Super Bowl rings. That definitely inspired me to play football. Watching him score and dunk the field goal posts, that right there excited me. We traveled to Dallas and watched them play when I was just a young kid. I knew one day that I could play just like he could play, and that's what I had in my mind at the time. Basically, as a family member, that's who inspired me a lot. But my favorite player in the game is Deion Sanders. I love his swag. And he's from Florida, too. I love Deion. As a kid, he was my inspiration. He's the reason why I wear the towel on my side, or why I wear my wristbands. That's what put an edge to my game."

If he has met Deion Sanders: "Never met him. Never had a chance to talk to him. I've seen him at the combine; I was up close and personal with him, but never got any words with him."

Decision to attend USC: "Initially it was Georgia, Tennessee. At the time, Coach [Lane] Kiffin was at Tennessee. I was originally committed to Georgia, but the whole defensive staff there was fired. Then I committed to Tennessee, and that's when the Kiffins went to USC. Right in the midst of all of that, my mom passed. She had a massive heart attack. That gave me even more reason to go away and play football and try to do something on my own. That's probably what it was telling me to do the whole time. I just went with it. Coach Kiffin said I had a great opportunity to start as a true freshman and be All-American and all that good stuff. I went to USC and I did just that: I started my first year and got tremendous playing time, made a lot of plays and had fun. It was cool."

Favorite memory with the Trojans: "When I picked off Andrew Luck. Three minutes left in the game, fourth quarter. We needed a big play. He threw an interception. I took it for six [points]. We still ended up going into overtime. He came back down and scored within a minute. We lost that game, but that's a memory I'll never forget."

Why he decided to declare for the NFL draft after his junior season: "I believe in myself. I'm very confident in myself. I also believe in the guys that play with me. I feel like if I could bet off me, I would bet on me every single time. I knew coming into [my junior season], I was thinking about the plays I made at USC. Am I really ready for the next level? All those questions went into my head, and at the end of the day, I sat down and just simplified it. I said 'Nickell, this is what you love to do. All of your life you've been dreaming of going to the next level. You know you can play at the next level. Your film shows it. You make enough plays to show the scouts that you can play at the next level.' From that point on, I went with it. I said that I was going to the next level, I was going to the league. I didn't have the best combine numbers, but as far as me being a football player, going out there and lining up against somebody, I can do that all day. I redeemed myself a little bit on my pro day, but initially I knew I could play in the NFL."

Not being drafted: "It wasn't so much of a disappointment. It actually turned into a blessing. It's awkward to say, but it showed me how much you have to work and how much you have to learn in this league. Things happen for a reason. I never questioned 'Why did I go undrafted?' To this day, I don't question it. Whatever happened, it happened. I wish I could do something about it. If anybody could do something about it, I wish I could do something about it. But I couldn't. I was just blessed enough and happy enough for a team to pick me up, because I knew if a team picked me up, I would be able to prove myself and show them what I have to offer. That's exactly what I did. Every day I just thank God that I'm able to play football, because there's a lot of people that can't do that. It's the one percent, and that's deep. When the opportunity came my way, I make sure I seized it. At the same time, I still have fun. I love everything about the game of football."

Being the youngest player in the Bills locker room: "It wasn't intimidating. But it's more like, when you're in college, you're the old guy by the end. Now I'm in the NFL locker room, and I'm the youngest. It just lets me know, you still have to make gradual progressions at each level that you go. Everything has a level to it. You have to understand that. You have older guys that are in front of you, and know a lot more than you. What you have to do is take notes and start from the bottom again and build back up."

Preseason, including two muffed punts: "I wish I could get those punts back, but Coach just told me, make sure you learn from your mistakes, just keep playing. At the same time, I'm still learning back there. Leodis [McKelvin] gets with me and tells me certain things to do, what decisions to make in certain situations. It's not so much about trying to make a play all the time, it's about being smart and knowing what situation you're in. As far as the preseason, defensively, I got a lot of snaps. I like my performance. You can always be better. I'm learning, and I'm getting better, and I'm taking steps forward. That's the most important part for me. I know the more reps you get, the better you get at it. I'm just working every day, making sure that I'm staying on top of everything I need to stay on top of, and prepare as much as I can to get ready for whoever my opponent is that week."

Goals and expectations for this season: "I already set high expectations for myself, sometimes high enough where I can't even see it. If you train yourself every day that that's what you want, then you'll get it. My expectations this year is try to make it to a Pro Bowl. Make a lot of plays. Special teams. It doesn't matter. Making plays is making plays. If I can make big plays in big-time moments, I know I'll get to that point. Coach always -- we talk about talking things into existence. A Pro Bowl is something that we really need, especially in the secondary. I feel like I can definitely be a Pro Bowler if I really work hard enough to get there. I try to be an MVP on something, just make a huge improvement to this organization."

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