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DE Curry 'blows up' at pro day

Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry put up impressive numbers at his pro-day workout on Wednesday, increasing the chances he will rise up NFL draft boards.

Curry ran an unimpressive 40-yard dash time of 4.98 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine two weeks ago. On Wednesday he ran a 4.64 time, media reports say, which is more in line with the way he looked on the field during the past two years at Marshall. At the combine, the time of 4.64 seconds was third best among defensive linemen. Southern Cal's Nick Perry, a mid to late first-round prospect ran that same mark. Illinois' Whitney Mercilus, a potential top-12 pick, ran 4.68 seconds. Curry also showed good strength, lifting 225 pounds 28 times. The results probably decrease the chances Curry would last until the Buffalo Bills pick 41st in the second round.

---Mark Gaughan

 

Manningham not big on cold

We expressed some trepidation in this space Wednesday about the possibility of the Buffalo Bills pursuing Giants free-agent receiver Mario Manningham. It sounds like those cautious about a Manningham signing have nothing to worry about.

Manningham is visiting the San Francisco 49ers. He's a Warren, Ohio, native and was interviewed on Cleveland.com on Tuesday. It sounds like the West Coast may be a good fit for him.

Manningham on the prospect of playing for the Browns: "A lot of players wouldn't (want to play in Cleveland). Like, I'm not trying to put the organization down. But a lot of players, that wouldn't be in their top choices. Because everybody says how cold it is in Cleveland. And team-wise … so it's a miserable combination."

As we wrote on Wednesday, Manningham is a good player. But the Bills could use someone who stretches the field a little more than he does, even if that player has less potential production overall than Manningham.

---Mark Gaughan

The link:

http://www.cleveland.com/ohio-sports-blog/index.ssf/2012/03/cleveland_is_not_a_hot_destina.html

Road to the Draft: Melvin Ingram

Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
6-foot-1 1-2, 264 pounds
Draft projection: First round

Lowdown: Like Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw, Ingram is a good pass rusher who lacks the ideal size teams seek in a sure-fire, first-round edge rusher. Ingram is only 6-1 ½ and has relatively short arms, 31.5-inches. However, he’s productive, and he could wind up inside the top 10 of the draft. He had nine sacks as a junior, even though he started only one game. As a senior in 2011 he had 10 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. He does not seem to have a real long-striding first step, but he has good closing speed to the quarterback. He's quick and he uses his leverage well. He showed his running ability in the 45-42 win over Georgia when he took a fake punt return 68 yards for a touchdown. He even was on the hands team on onside kickoffs. He’s versatile. The Gamecocks often lined him up inside at defensive tackle in pass-rush situations, too.

“I feel like playing so many roles helped me,” Ingram said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I feel like my coach gave me the opportunity to show my athletic ability in every way.”

Buffalo angle: The Bills obviously don't need him to rush from the tackle spot, they have enough guys who can do that. But Ingram has enough quickness to be a consideration for the Bills at the 10th spot.

Height issue: Ingram thinks he uses his 6-1 height to his advantage against tall offensive tackles.

“I feel like it helps me a lot,” he said. “I feel like when I come off the ball I already have leverage. So I just try to counter-move off whatever the offensive linemen do.”

---Mark Gaughan

Mario Williams to sleep on decision

The Buffalo Bills will wait a little longer to see if their blockbuster signing comes to pass.

Houston Texans free-agent defensive end Mario Williams will stay in Buffalo again tonight and return to the Bills' headquarters in Orchard Park in the morning, the team announced.

The Bills spent all day trying to close a deal to make Williams, 27, the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. Williams spent the morning with team officials, then had his fiance flown into town at midday. After seeing some sights around town, the two returned back to One Bills Drive for more meetings late Thursday afternoon.

Williams, 6-foot-7 and 290 pounds, has 53 sacks over 5 1-3 seasons as a pro. His arrival would provide an immediate upgrade to a Buffalo defense that ranked 26th last season. Buffalo had just 29 sacks last season, tied for third fewest in the league.

The Bills have two high-quality defensive tackles in Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. Adding Williams to the right end spot would give them a potentially dominant defensive front. 

---Mark Gaughan 

 

Bills face tough call on Manningham

The Buffalo Bills will have a tough decision on how hard to push for free-agent wide receiver Mario Manningham of the New York Giants. Buffalo, Miami and San Francisco are the teams reported to be interested in him, according to ESPN. Miami is very eager to get a wideout after trading big Brandon Marshall on Tuesday. (UPDATE: Manningham will visit San Francisco on Thursday, according to ProFootballTalk.com.)

Manningham is a quality receiver. His career yards-per-catch average of 14.5 is excellent. He had 57 catches for 822 yards in 2009 and 60 for 944 with nine touchdowns in 2010. He had some nagging injuries last season and finished with 39 catches for 523 yards in 12 games. He's not a burner, but he runs well. He ran a slow time (4.59) at the combine coming out of Michigan because he wasn't in top shape but came back to run 4.49 before the 2008 draft. Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride runs a complex offense with a lot of option routes, so Manningham presumably would be able to adjust to Chan Gailey's offense.

But do the Bills really want to pay him as much as they're paying Stevie Johnson ($7.25 million)? It doesn't seem he's worth that much, but who knows how high the bidding could get if Miami is determined to fill the Marshall hole.

The Bills thought they had a deal for Robert Meachem late Tuesday. It was close. But San Diego swooped in and offered Meachem a per-year average equal to that of Johnson (without as much up-front money). That was an offer Meachem decided he had to take on the spot. Another factor to consider is the draft is deep - very deep - in receivers this year.

Nevertheless, to win a Super Bowl, a team needs an array of weapons. Manningham was the No. 3 wideout for the Giants behind Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. If the Bills don't seal the deal with Mario Williams, that may prompt them to bid higher on Manningham.

---Mark Gaughan

Can Bills close Mario deal?

The Buffalo Bills will have Mario Williams back at their One Bills Drive headquarters this morning aiming to close the deal on a blockbuster free-agent signing. Does Williams like Buffalo enough to sign without visiting another team? Or is he determined to see what else is out there, given that this his is one and only shot at unrestricted free agency while he's in the prime of his career? Williams was undergoing a physical exam this morning.

All indications are the Bills are making the necessary financial commitment to get Williams. Their challenge is to convince Williams that this is a great place for him to win and be comfortable. Williams had said before free agency he wasn't necessarily simply going to go to the highest bidder. The reality is, given the way NFL free agency usually works, if Williams leaves town without a deal the Bills' chances of landing him are greatly diminished.

Other teams rumored to be interested in Williams include Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Tennessee and Jacksonville. Chicago hosted Jacksonville pass rusher Jeremy Mincey on Tuesday, but Mincey opted to re-sign with the Jaguars. Mincey got $6.75 million a year, a lot for a guy with 13 sacks over the past two years but not outrageous in the realm of free agency. The deal probably doesn't keep Jacksonville out of the Williams running. Atlanta can offer Williams a proven chance to win, but the Falcons would be challenged to fit Williams in their salary structure. They let key defenders John Abraham and Curtis Lofton hit free agency because they were tight against the cap.

---Mark Gaughan

Road to the Draft: Omar Bolden (updated)

Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State
5-foot-10, 202 pounds
Draft projection: third or fourth round

Lowdown: Bolden is a talented man-coverage corner with good size who is coming off a torn knee ligament suffered in spring practice last April that kept him out the entire 2011 season. He considered entering the draft last year after a superb junior year. He was a unanimous all-Pacific 10 Conference pick. He’s also a good return man. He averaged 29.2 yards on 11 kickoff returns as a junior. Injuries are a worry, however. He was limited to just four games as a sophomore in 2009 due to a sprained knee. He started nine of 13 games in 2007 and 12 of 12 as a sophomore in 2008. He’s physically strong and he has shown good ball skills. A big question will be how well he runs at his pro day on Friday. The Bills could use a physical corner like him in the middle rounds of the draft.

Update: Indications are Bolden ran in the mid 4.5s at his pro-day workout, not great, but given his injury, probably good enough to be a middle or upper-middle round draft pick.

He handled the disappointment of his senior-year knee injury well and was considered a good leader with the Sun Devils. “It’s just adversity, man,” he said at the scouting combine last month. “For me, it’s just another bump on the road. We all face adversity. It’s really nothing different to me.”

“What I’m trying to show them (scouts) is I’m healthy,” he said. “That’s first and foremost. That’s everyone’s biggest question, everyone’s biggest concern. I’m glad that I’m here because I get to show people who I really am. They get to see my character and the type of person I am and how I carry myself as an individual.”

---Mark Gaughan

Chargers swipe Meachem away

The San Diego Chargers announced they have a four-year deal with free-agent receiver Robert Meachem.

The Chargers struck the deal, even though Meachem was on a visit in Buffalo with the Bills. San Diego was in dire need of a receiver after losing its No. 1 wideout, Vincent Jackson, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency earlier Tuesday evening. One would think the Chargers made a big increase in their bid over what the Bills and Meachem's agent were discussing.

Meachem's deal is for $29 million over four years, with $14 million guaranteed, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. That's a per-year average of $7.25 million, the same as the Bills gave to Stevie Johnson. Johnson's deal is much better overall. He got $24 million the first three years and $19.5 million guaranteed. Nevertheless, it's another example of how free-agent bidding gets heated.

The deal was the latest in a string of moves made on wide receivers on the first day of free agency. Jackson, Marques Colston, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan were the prominent wideouts who signed contracts. 

Receivers still on the market include Dallas' Laurent Robinson, St. Louis' Brandon Lloyd, the Giants' Mario Manningham and Arizona's Early Doucet. There is a lot of speculation Lloyd will reunite with his former head coach, Josh McDaniels, in New England. The NFL Netrowk reports he will visit San Francisco. Robinson has been rumored to be in the sights of Miami, Jacksonville and Dallas.

---Mark Gaughan

 

Meachem & critical mass

Here's why the Bills could use wide receiver Robert Meachem - or someone like him.

They have one of the better one-two running back combinations in the league in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. They have a go-to X-receiver on the outside in Stevie Johnson. They have very capable targets for the middle of the field in slotman David Nelson and tight end Scott Chandler. What they're lacking is the outside guy to stretch the field from the flanker or Z position. With somebody reliable in that spot, the offense all of a sudden has critical mass. Johnson and the middle-of-the-field targets become much harder to defend.

The Bills’ starting Z receiver last year averaged only 10.1 yards a catch and produced only two catches of more than 30 yards. It would have helped on third downs, too. The Bills were 28th in third-down conversion percentage.

The Bills have some young guys who might develop and could provide excellent depth in Donald Jones, Marcus Easley and David Clowney. A guy like Meachem would strike more fear into defenses.

---Mark Gaughan

All-out effort on Mario Williams

The Buffalo Bills are doing their best to try to get star defensive end Mario Williams to leave town with a new contract in hand. The Bills are committed to making him the top-paid defensive player in the league, a league source has told The News, and the team will try to complete the deal as soon as possible.

Chicago gave defensive end Julius Peppers a six-year, $91.5 million deal in 2010. More important than the total dollars was the fact the Bears gave Peppers $40.5 million in the first three years and $42 million guaranteed. It's a given Williams would not have made a trip to any team Tuesday afternoon without a firm commitment of a big financial package.

The Bills reported on their website that Bills general manager Buddy Nix flew with defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt on a private jet to pick up Williams in North Carolina and bring him back to Buffalo. Williams is having dinner with those two, plus Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon, coach Chan Gailey and defensive tackle Kyle Williams, the Bills reported.

If Williams were to leave town without a deal, the odds of him signing with the Bills would go dramatically down, based on the way the recruitment of elite free agents goes in the NFL.

---Mark Gaughan

 

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