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Coleman steps in

The Bills officially announced the signing of outside linebacker Antonio Coleman to the roster to fill Shawne Merriman's spot. Coleman had been on the Giants' practice squad. He was cut by the Bills at the end of preseason. He was on the field for the defense in seven games for the Bills last season and saw 41 defensive snaps. He made seven tackles. He knows the defensive system. At this point in the season, he's as good a fill-in as the Bills are going to find.

---Mark Gaughan

Merriman put on injured reserve, ending his season

Shawne Merriman's comeback attempt with the Buffalo Bills is over, at least for the 2011 season.

The team placed Merriman on injured reserve Tuesday, ending his season. Merriman's problematic Achilles injury flared up before the team's Week Six game against the New York Giants. Merriman sat that game out, but expressed optimism last week that the just-passed bye week would give him enough time to heal and get back on the field.

It didn't happen.

Coach Chan Gailey hinted that Merriman's availability was in doubt Monday when the Bills returned to practice without the linebacker.

"He's not making the progress we had hoped right now," Gailey said.

"Shawne has worked extremely hard, but unfortunately, his Achilles flared back up and it doesn’t appear that he will be able to return to the field anytime soon,” Bills General Manager Buddy Nix said in a statement released by the team. "So we felt it was in the best interest of our team and for Shawne to put him on IR."

Merriman finishes his 2011 season with nine tackles and just one sack in five games.

UPDATE: "Merriman released the following statement on his website: "Due to the fact that I have recently been experiencing excessive aggravation in my Achilles tendon, which is a limitation that I have been dealing with for well over two years now, I sought the opinions of multiple medical specialists. After much consideration and unanimous professional recommendations stating that my Achilles is in danger of rupturing, I have been advised that it would be in my best interest to undergo surgery as soon as possible in order to prevent a major injury. I would like to thank all of my fans for their continued support on my road to a full recovery and am looking forward to getting back out on the field."

---Jay Skurski 

Fitz not available Monday

Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was given a "day off" from meeting with the media today, according to a member of the team's media relations staff.

That's a highly unusual move.

A national report late last week on said Fitzpatrick was close to signing a contract extension.  The timing of this day off, then, is interesting. 

Read into it what you will, but from here it seems an extension is imminent. The alternative, of course, would be that talks broke down over the weekend, but the former is much more likely.

---Jay Skurski

Injuries piling up for Redskins

Injuries are not exclusive to the Bills. Buffalo's next opponent, the Washington Redskins, have been hit hard in the last two weeks.

The Redskins announced Monday that starting running back Tim Hightower tore an ACL in Sunday's loss to the Carolina Panthers and will be out for the season. Wide receiver Santana Moss broke his hand and will miss five-to-seven weeks, according to a report by the Washington Post.

Skins linebacker London Fletcher, the former Bill, also suffered a left hamstring injury against Carolina, and his status for Sunday's game in Toronto is uncertain.

Two weeks ago, the Redskins lost starting left guard Kory Lichtensteiger for the season, also to a torn ACL. In the same game, starting left tackle Trent Williams suffered a high ankle sprain, making his availability for the game against the Bills unlikely.

---Jay Skurski

Six missing from practice as Bills return from bye

The Bills are working out in the fieldhouse this afternoon after four days off for their bye week. Not practicing are LB Shawne Merriman, WR Donald Jones, CB Aaron Williams, NT Kyle Williams and OTs Demetrius Bell and Chris Hairston.

Linebacker Chris Kelsay was back on the field and looked to be full go, while Andy Levitre moved over to left tackle with the starters.

C.J. Spiller did some individual warm-ups with the running backs before moving over to the receivers to run routes.

Nose tackle Torell Troup (cheap plug: read about in Tuesday's Buffalo News) was practicing, but still looks to be slowed by the nagging back injury that has basically ruined his second season.

Bills coach Chan Gailey will address the media after practice.

---Jay Skurski

Gates finally ready to return

Around the NFL before Week Seven kicks off:

- Chargers tight end Antonio Gates is active today against the New York Jets after dealing with a foot injury that has caused him to miss three games this season. Gates should immediately go back into your lineup.

- On the quarterback front, which I touched on in Friday's column, Tarvaris Jackson is inactive for the Seahawks today, making Charlie Whitehurst the starter if you're in need of a QB.

- At wide receiver, the Broncos' Demaryius Moore is active for the first time this season. He probably won't get a ton of playing time in his first game, but with Brandon Lloyd being traded, Moore's got a chance to develop into the No. 1 receiver for QB Tim Tebow. Keep an eye on him.

- Falcons rookie WR Julio Jones is out today, so make sure he's out of your lineup.

- Kicker Sebastian Janikowski, a fantasy star because of his ability to drill 50-plus-yard field goals, is questionable for the Raiders today. Don't take a chance that he won't be ready and find a one-week replacement.

- Also in Oakland, after early reports said QB Carson Palmer might start, it now sounds like will actually be Kyle Boller under center for the Raiders.

- In London, Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount is again inactive, making Earnest Graham the play as the Bucs' RB. Graham is coming off a solid week and is a good option as a No. 2 RB today.

- The Lions have officially ruled RB Jahvid Best out today with a concussion. That means Maurice Morris gets the start. Keep an eye on Morris -- Best could be out long term.

- In Cleveland, Montario Hardesty starts at RB for Peyton Hillis. Hardesty has a chance to earn the job with a good performance, so keep an eye on that situation moving forward.

Best of luck this weekend!

---Jay Skurski 


The mental game with Kent Hull

Here's an excerpt of an interview from 2002 with Kent Hull about his mental preparedness during his Buffalo Bills career.

"Speaking for myself, I’m not a perfectionist. But I’d like to say if I’m going to get beat I’m not going to get beat mentally. You’re going to beat me physically. The whole time I played I just couldn’t understand how someone could keep making mistakes mentally. It just irritated me so bad, that I don’t think I’d have the patience to coach. I’d wind up being one of these hard-asses that nobody would want to play for because I don’t have any patience for that."

"I had players who played with me who couldn’t stand some of the things I was saying to them because of mental mistakes. You’re going to get beat physically in the game of football. It’s a physical game. But to beat yourself because you’re not thinking is no excuse. I’m not sure I’d have the patience with some of these guys today."

"When Ruben Brown was a rookie, I guess he thought he was so relaxed because I was telling him what to do that he never worried about anything. Then it started irritating me that he wasn’t trying to learn what he was supposed to be doing and he was putting more pressure on me. And Ruben turned it around 100 percent after his rookie year. That’s just an example. Some people take things for granted when it’s a lot easier on everybody else."

"In the old days when we ran that no huddle and those five linemen were there every week, you didn’t have to say hardly anything. You make one call and everybody else knew what you were thinking. We were mentally ready. That’s not to say you’re not going to get beat physically. But at least you were mentally ready to play."

---Mark Gaughan

Bresnahan remembers Hull

Here's an excerpt of an interview I did about a decade ago with former Bills offensive line coach and coordinator Tom Bresnahan on the late Kent Hull, who will be buried today in Greenwood, Miss. Bresnahan is one of the most articulate coaches I've ever met and was a great O-line coach for the Bills.

“Kent was a great football player. During my time in professional football, he’s as good as it gets. First of all, he was an exceptional athlete in almost every way. There were two centers, maybe three, besides him that I thought were superior centers. Mike Wesbter was around at the beginning of my time. Then there was Dwight Stepehnson. Then Dermontti Dawson. Each were a little different. In comparison to those three, I’d have to rate Kent the No. 1 pass protector of the four. Kent Hull was brilliant as a pass protector. I’m sure (ex-Dolphins coach) John Sandusky would say Stephenson.”

“I know what we did in our scheme in those days, sending five receivers out in the pattern, was rare. There were many times we left only the five O-linemen to block  all the rushers. Obviously, you cant block ‘em all. Jim Kelly had to read hot. This put tremendous pressure on Kent, not only mentally but physically. If it was an odd defense, if Kent were covered, he was totally alone. All the other guys, if they were uncovered, were peeleing out of there looking for blitzers.

"Finally as a run blocker, Dermontti and Dwight Stephenson were quicker off the mark, I’d have to say. But we didn’t ask Kent to do a lot of those kinds of things. We didn’t ask Kent to pull. He was exceptionally quick. He could get position on a big, strong nose man who could overpower most centers. He had unique strength, even though he wasn’t he biggest guy on the line. A lotta Thurman Thomas’ yardage was run just outside of him or to the backside of him."

"Now let’s get to the real heart. I coached some really good linemen who I love dearly. But he was the best overall football player I ever coached. The reason why I say it is not just his physical ability, but he had an unbelievable demeanor and an ability to make decisions under pressure and a calmness and a poise under pressure that really kept everybody on the same page. Operating the no-huddle offense, the only other real key besides Kelly was Kent Hull.

“A couple other things. The line is together six months a year, and we’re in a room and a lot of ‘em are hearing the same things over and over again. Coaching this was a seminar situation with players and coaches making decisions as a team about what’s the best way to go about this thing. Kent was obviously a key guy in my mind in bouncing things off of. I didn’t hesitate to call him on the phone on Tuesday. A couple times I’d remember he’d even come to the office on Tuesday. I’d ask, ‘Kent, how do you think he can handle this best?’ He would have made an unbelievable football coach. Everybody respected him. His nickname was ‘Tough,’ and that’s because that’s exactly what he was. The finest football player I ever coached.”

---Mark Gaughan


Kent Hull's most memorable play

Here's an excerpt of an interview I did with Kent Hull in 2002. It's his recollection of the Comeback Game on Jan. 3, 1993. Bills 41, Houston Oilers 38 in overtime. The play came with about 10 minutes to go in the third quarter. The Oilers were leading, 35-3. The Bills had driven to the Houston 7 and faced a fourth-and-2 situation.

Said Hull: "I played in very few games I can remember. I’ve never watched a Super Bowl I played in. But I remember the Comeback Game. It seems I can remember every play. The one play I remember most. The fans have gone, they started to come back. We're still fighting. As bad as it was, there was still about 10 people on the team who were saying we were gonna win."

"The only way we could win in the second half, everything had to happen just like this. We had a fourth and 1, and I’ll never forget it. Frank (Reich) calls a dive play behind John Davis and I, and Ray Childress is lined up in the gap. I remember telling John, ‘John, don’t worry about the linebacker, we gotta get this 1 yard. He said, ‘Thank you, that’s all I want to hear.’ And he and I took Ray Childress about 6 yards down the field. I’ll never forget the feeling I got from that. We wound up knocking the linebacker down by accident and Kenny Davis got about 5 yards. Everything just fell perfect in that second half. Childress was a smart guy and knew the play. It didn’t take long to figure out that no-huddle. ‘Fifty-six’ was a run off right tackle. He heard it coming. John Davis was a helluva guard. We just blew them out of there. We went onto score.”

---Mark Gaughan



Kyle Williams out 1-2 games

Bills coach Chan Gailey said after practice today the team expects to be without defensive tackle Kyle Williams for the next couple games.

"It still looks like it's going to be he'll miss a game or two, maybe, and then we'll re-evaluate at that point," Gailey said.

Williams is out with what is being described as a foot injury. Gailey acknolwedged that Williams may not be 100 percent the rest of the year. Williams was walking around in a boot in the locker room Wednesday. It's believed he has a bone spur that's affecting his Achilles tendon.

The Bills' next two games are against Washington in Toronto and at home against the New York Jets. The Bills would be in strong position if they could win those two games. They embark on a three-game road trip after that - at Dallas, at Miami and at the Jets.

On the offensive line, the Bills are planning on starting guard Andy Levitre at left tackle against the Redskins, although tackle Demetrius Bell has a chance to be ready.

Said Gailey: "Has a chance to be back. We're not ruling him out for the Washington game. In our minds we have to be ready to not have him. If we get him it's great."

Asked if the coaches will be inclined to make a lot of tweaks in strategy and tactics during the bye week, Gailey said: "The biggest thing is not to go crazy just because it's an open week and give them too much where they can't go out there and play and execute."

---Mark Gaughan


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