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Fred not focused on new deal

Bills running back Fred Jackson reported for work today as the team started its voluntary offseason workout program.

Jackson, who's entering the final year of his contract, said "it's just not the time" to be worried about a new contract.

"This week [the front office has] the draft coming up. That’s what they’re focusing on. I’ll just continue to be patient and see what happens," he said. "It’s like I’ve said all along, 'I think something will get done.' [General Manager] Buddy [Nix] said that they want to get something done, so I’ll just continue to put faith in that."

Jackson is 100 percent recovered from the broken bone in his lower right leg that ended his season after 10 games in 2011.

"I got medically released about three months ago," he said. "I've been training and nothing's changed."

Jackson said he never considered skipping the workouts, even though they are voluntary.

"I'm just going to continue to show up, be with my teammates and play football. That’s what I do. This is just part of that process, showing up and trying to get ready for the 2012 season," he said.

...

Join The Buffalo News for extensive live coverage during the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night.

Watch a live broadcast beginning at 7:30 p.m., follow a ticker with draft selections and join a live chat.

The News' deep roster of sports reporters and columnists will be situated in the newsroom and at One Bills Drive to bring you the latest developments.

Myself and Tim Graham are anchoring the draft webcast from One News Plaza, with additional insight from Mike Harrington and Bucky Gleason.

Mark Gaughan, Jerry Sullivan, Bob DiCesare and Lauren Mariacher will be at One Bills Drive to get reaction from the Bills' front office.

---Jay Skurski

http://twitter.com/jayskurski

Attendance high as Bills get back to work (with audio)

The Buffalo Bills got back to work early this morning with the start of voluntary offseason workouts.

Attendance was strong, with wide receiver Stevie Johnson one of the few known absences. (Johnson's wife just gave birth to their third child last week.)

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was the first to meet with the media. He said he was in Costa Rica for a wedding during the pursuit of Mario Williams. The only access to the internet he had was in the hotel lobby, so he was down there every 20 minutes checking for updates.

"When it finally happened, obviously I was pretty excited about it. I got a lot of calls and texts. I’m really glad he’s here," Fitzpatrick said.

Shawne Merriman, Fred Jackson and Williams also met with the media. Audio of Merriman, Williams and Fitzpatrick can be found below.

Ryan Fitzpatrick

Mario Williams

Shawne Merriman

Join The Buffalo News for extensive live coverage during the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night.

Watch a live broadcast beginning at 7:30 p.m., follow a ticker with draft selections and join a live chat.

The News' deep roster of sports reporters and columnists will be situated in the newsroom and at One Bills Drive to bring you the latest developments.

Myself and Tim Graham are anchoring the draft webcast from One News Plaza, with additional insight from Mike Harrington and Bucky Gleason.

Mark Gaughan, Jerry Sullivan, Bob DiCesare and Lauren Mariacher will be at One Bills Drive to get reaction from the Bills' front office.

---Jay Skurski

http://twitter.com/jayskurski

Meat of the schedule; recent December home record

The Bills will likely find out a lot about themselves from Week Five to Week 10 in the 2012 season.

Check out this stretch: Start with a trip to San Francisco -- which was an overtime from the Super Bowl last season -- in Week Five. Either take a cross-country flight home, or stay out west, which might be a better idea because Week Six takes the Bills to Arizona.

After that, it's a home game against Tennessee in Week Seven followed by the bye week. The schedule picks right back up after that, however, with visits to AFC South champion Houston and then finally a visit to Buffalo's own House of Horrors, New England, in Week 10.

---

Four of Buffalo's five games are at home (well, three of them are, and one is in Toronto).

The Bills face a tough task in selling those games out. Buffalo's attendance for its three December games in 2011: 56,643 (Dec. 4 vs. Tennessee), 60,988 (Dec. 11 vs. Miami) 45,112 (Dec. 24 vs. Denver).

The only hope Buffalo has in seeing better gates is to improve the product on the field. During the 12 playoff-less seasons, Buffalo's home record in December and early January is 11-16 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

---Jay Skurski

http://twitter.com/jayskurski 

Berry wonders -- again -- about hit from Johnson

Chiefs safety Eric Berry told the Associated Press today to "make your own opinion" about whether the hit he took from Bills receiver Stevie Johnson in the season opener last September was intentional.

"You can look at the tape and make your own opinion about that. I mean, my opinion is my opinion," he told the AP.

On March 5, Berry tweeted: “Sometimes I sit n wonder if they had a bounty out on me...oh well...who cares. Either way u can't hold me down.”

Berry told the AP his tweet was, "pretty much a joke." He suffered a torn ACL in his left knee on the hit, which Johnson delivered legally in the open field.

Johnson has repeatedly denied any intention to hurt Berry.

Johnson was unavailable for comment today: he and his wife, Brittney, welcomed the birth of their third child, Mia, on Monday. Johnson's agent, CJ Laboy, issued the following statement:

"Eric Berry is a phenomenal football player who will be a Pro Bowler for years to come, but knowing the Bills organization and Stevie as well as I do and hearing Stevie's very public statements concerning 'bounties'as well as his apologies for the legal downfield block made on Eric, there is no doubt that the hit was unintentional. It is unfortunate that Eric suffered an injury during that game and we all look forward to seeing him back on the field in 2012."

---Jay Skurski

http://twitter.com/jayskurski

Schedule coming out at 7

The NFL is the undisputed king of the American sports landscape.

Further evidence of that can be seen on ESPN tonight, when the sports network devotes three hours of prime time to a special on the release of the NFL schedule.

The show starts at 7 p.m., at which time each team will release its schedule for the 2012 season. The information will be posted here as soon as it's made available.

In the mean time, some preliminary information was leaked by the New England Patriots' official Twitter site: the Pats will start the season on the road and end it at home. Also, New England has four prime time games.

The Bills' last Monday Night Football appearance came against New England in the 2009 season opener.

The season's first game had previously been announced: Dallas faces the New York Giants at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, a day earlier than the recent Thursday night openers to accommodate President Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention.

---Jay Skurski

http://twitter.com/jayskurski

King says Tannehill to visit

Sports Illustrated's Peter King tweeted this morning that Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill is scheduled to make a pre-draft visit with the Buffalo Bills next week.

With that in mind, here's what ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden had to say about Tannehill in a conference call earlier this week.

"What's not concerning is what kind of athlete he is. Let’s not forget, he didn’t just play wide receiver at Texas A&M, he started at wide receiver. He had over 200 yards receiving in one game against Kansas State. He’s an outstanding athlete, and he’s also been tutored by an NFL coach in Mike Sherman," Gruden said. "So when you do watch Tannehill, every time you watch him you’re seeing an outstanding young man who’s been tutored by an excellent offensive coach in an outstanding system. That I like. So the arrow is going up on Tannehill."

What is concerning, according to Gruden, is Tannehill's lack of experience. He started only 19 games after switching to quarterback from receiver, as Gruden alluded to. He also went just 1-5 against ranked teams this past season.  

"There are some issues you wish you could see. You’d like to see more tape. You’d like to see Tannehill and the A&M offense finish games in the second half when they have a lead. Some of the losses they had this year, I’m not blaming Tannehill, I’m not blaming anybody, but they lost the lead a lot this year in games, and it cost them, because I thought Texas A&M was going to be a top 10 team this year," Gruden said.

Tannehill has steadily moved up draft charts this offseason, so the chances are the Bills would have to move up to draft him as their quarterback of the future. So the question is simple: Should they?

  

---Jay Skurski

http://twitter.com/jayskurski

Gruden on Fitz: 'It's about sustaining'

ESPN analyst Jon Gruden believes Ryan Fitzpatrick still has something to prove as quarterback of the Buffalo Bills.

Speaking in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Gruden was asked whether he thought the Bills can win with Fitzpatrick under center.

"I think Fitzpatrick showed some things early that were very exciting ... helping the Buffalo Bills come out of the gate in impressive fashion," the former coach and current Monday Night Football broadcaster said. "But in this league at the end of the day it’s about sustaining. Ryan Fitzpatrick has to prove he can start the season and end the season by putting the Buffalo Bills back in the playoffs. ... That remains to be seen. I think he’s got to answer those questions himself."

Gruden also spoke of the 10 quarterback prospects he interviewed for his popular ESPN series "QB Camp," some of whom the Bills have or are scheduled to visit with as part of the pre-draft process.

I'll have more from Gruden in Thursday's Buffalo News.

---Jay Skurski

http://twitter.com/jayskurski

Pre-draft visits planned or in the books

Each NFL team can bring in up to 30 prospects before the NFL draft. So far, the Bills have or are scheduled to meet with 16 prospects, based on reports here at The News, the Bills' official website, and other national outlets.

Here's the list of who has/will visit:

RB Trent Richardson, Alabama

QB Kirk Cousins, Michigan State

OL Cordy Glenn, Georgia

QB Russell Wilson, Wisconsin

WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State

WR Brian Quick, Appalachian State

LT Jonathan Martin, Stanford

DE Whitney Mercilus, Illinois

LB Tank Carder, TCU

DE Andre Branch, Clemson

LT Matt Kalil, USC

QB Brock Osweiler, Arizona State

CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama

DE Chandler Jones, Syracuse

LB Bruce Irvin, West Virginia

LT Mike Adams, Ohio State

This list may very well not be all inclusive, as some teams prefer to keep their interest in certain prospects quiet.

With that in mind, a few thoughts:

-- The two names most often pegged for the Bills in mock drafts, offensive tackle Riley Reiff of Iowa and wide receiver Michael Floyd of Notre Dame are not on that list. That could mean a a few things: 1)As mentioned above, the Bills have already had Reiff and Floyd in for visits, and asked them to keep quiet, 2) the visits simply haven't yet, 3) the Bills "know what they have" and don't need to schedule a visit, or 4) they simply don't like them.

-- The Bills are clearly doing their due diligence on the quarterbacks in this year's class.

-- By far the most interesting name on the list is running back Trent Richardson. He plays a position that's clearly not a "need," but if he was to be available at No. 10, it would put General Manager Buddy Nix's theory of taking the best player available to the test.

---Jay Skurski

http://twitter.com/jayskurski

Source: Bills, Johnson exchange proposals

---The Buffalo Bills and representatives for Stevie Johnson have exchanged proposals and are expected to meet at next week’s NFL Combine, a league source told The Buffalo News.

The Bills submitted a proposal over a week ago and Johnson’s agent, C.J. LaBoy, countered the team’s offer on Monday, according to the source. There have been no further talks although the two sides are scheduled to meet next week in Indianapolis.

The 25-year-old Johnson started all 16 games in 2011 and finished with 76 receptions for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns.

---Rodney McKissic

(www.twitter.com/rodneyjmckissic)

Report: Manning had a fourth surgery

Super_Bowl_Football_0b767-729
---A day after Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay made it clear that the decision whether to play for the team rests with Peyton Manning, pictured above, and his willingness to take a pay cut, Sports Illustrated reports new details about the quarterback’s physical condition. According to SI, Manning underwent four, not three, neck procedures over a 19-month span, has bone spurs just above the spot of fusion surgery in September, and may require further fusion.

---Here's John McClain's take on Mario Williams, who McClain says several teams may be in a position to offer the free agent defensive end $50 million as a signing bonus. Think Ralph Wilson would really like to hand over that kind of cash?

---Detroit is on the rise and Lions president Tom Lewand says his team will be smart with its money this off-season.

--- Sporting News ranks its top 50 draft prospects. Penn State DT Devon Still ranks No. 10.

---Retired NFL players are still hoping for improved benefits. Bills Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure told the AP that "I'm going to fight `em to the end."

---Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times reports preliminary contract talks between the Baltimore Ravens and quarterback Joe Flacco are expected to launch next week at the NFL scouting combine, according to Flacco's agent, Joe Linta.

---Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has been in Los Angeles working on his throwing mechanics with new UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone according to Peter Yoon of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

---Rodney McKissic

(www.twitter.com/rodneyjmckissic)

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