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Bills WR Derek Hagan shows reliable hands

By Mark Gaughan

Bills wide receiver Derek Hagan has been in the NFL six seasons and never has caught more than 29 passes in any one year. So he's not a fan favorite in the discussion about who will emerge as one of the Bills' top three receivers this year. Nevertheless, Hagan continues to show good hands in spring practices, and he made some fine catches in Wednesday's minicamp workout.

Hagan was a third-round pick of the Dolphins in 2006 but played his way into just one start in a little over two years in Miami (36 games). Since then he has bounced from the Giants to Oakland to Buffalo, which signed him as a free agent last Nov. 22 due to a rash of injuries on offense.

With Stevie Johnson rehabilitating from offseason groin surgery, Hagan has been getting a lot of snaps with the starting offense this spring. Johnson is back working in limited duty in full-squad work this week. In Wednesday's session, Hagan caught a TD pass in the right side of the end zone on a superb throw from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Hagan had a nice catch from Fitzpatrick on a deep corner route in 7-on-7 work late in the practice.

Third-year receiver Marcus Easley had a good practice. He caught a TD strike from Vince Young over cornerback Isaiah Green in red zone work. Then he caught another one several plays later from Fitzpatrick.

Tyler Thigpen took second-team snaps at quarterback and Young was the third QB. But Young threw the ball a bit better than Thigpen. It's going to take Young time to adjust to a new offense. But his good arm and quick feet were in evidence. On one red-zone play, he nimbly escaped the pocket due to pressure from a blitz and threw a strike on the run to Naaman Roosevelt in the end zone. Young also had a perfect, 20-yard pass in the corner of the end zone to tight end Dorin Dickerson. Those were two of the prettiest offensive plays of the day.

With Terrence McGee recovering from a knee injury, Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams started at cornerback. The first-team defensive line was Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Chris Kelsay. Middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard sat out the workout. Filling in for him much of the time was Scott McKillop, flanked by Kirk Morrison and Nick Barnett. The Bills rotated linebackers a lot.

Fitzpatrick hit Donald Jones and rookie T.J. Graham for TDs in the first red-zone session. Graham hung on for the catch in tight traffic. The lone interception of the day came from Leodis McKelvin, who caught a rebound of a ball from Fitzpatrick that was tipped by Bryan Scott. Receiver David Nelson slipped and fell on the play. Receiver Ruvell Martin beat rookie Ron Brooks on a deep pass from Thigpen. Near the end of the practice, Fitzpatrick had a fine long throw down the sideline to Johnson, who got a step behind Aaron Williams.

The Bills' final minicamp practice is Thursday afternoon. Then the players are off until training camp opens on July 26.

Bills garner little respect in ESPN fantasy rankings

By Tim Graham

ESPN's fantasy gurus held their annual conference to compile their player ratings for 2012.

The Buffalo Bills didn't get much love on ESPN's Top 300 list.

Fred Jackson is the highest-rated Bills player at No. 34 overall and No. 14 among running backs. ESPN projects he will rush for 1,099 yards and seven touchdowns and catch 40 passes for 382 yards.

Backfield mate C.J. Spiller is ranked the NFL's 81st-best fantasy player and 34th among running backs. ESPN forecasts 645 rushing yards and four touchdowns with 41 catches for 372 yards and a touchdown.

Top target Stevie Johnson came in 60th overall and 23rd among all receivers. He won't record three straight 1,000-yard seasons based on ESPN's guesstimates. Its analysts have him down for 82 receptions and 984 yards with six touchdowns.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is No. 137 in the league and 23rd at quarterback. His projected stat line: 3,357 yards, 21 touchdowns, 20 interceptions.

Most interesting to me was Buffalo's defense/special teams ranking. It's listed 11th with a forecast of 35 sacks, 21 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries and 331 points allowed (103 fewer points than it gave up last year).

Four more Bills made the Top 300 list, and you might be surprised at a couple of them: No. 235 David Nelson, No. 258 Donald Jones, No. 270 Johnny White and No. 295 Marcus Easley.

Easley, entering his third season, hasn't played an NFL down yet. But his forecast is 24 catches for 331 yards and a score.

The biggest omission? Scott Chandler, for sure.

In an obviously honest oversight that's sure to get corrected (not a snub), Chandler, who tied the franchise record for tight ends with six touchdowns last year, didn't rate in the Top 300 or even among the top 71 tight ends.

You know who did make the tight end list? Former Bill and current free agent Shawn Nelson.

Buddy Nix on LaDainian Tomlinson: 'I love him'

By Tim Graham

Buddy Nix has been around scores of great players since he broke into football as a graduate coaching assistant under Bear Bryant in 1961.

He was in the Buffalo Bills front office near the end of their Super Bowl years with Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett.

In the 2000s, Nix helped put together some of the greatest teams in San Diego Chargers history, working with the likes of Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison. Nix also coached Terrell Owens in college.

When it comes to the best he's been around, running back LaDainian Tomlinson has a special place. They joined the Chargers in 2001 and had a fine run together. Tomlinson ended his Hall of Fame career this week, retiring after 11 seasons.

I had the chance to ask Nix what stands out about Tomlinson.

"People don't realize how bad we were on the offensive line when that poor boy first got there," Nix said. "He carried it time after time after time, and then some of our offensive linemen went to the Pro Bowl because of him.

"They jelled and got good, but he made them come together and want to be good. That's a quality of a good leader."

The Chargers were 1-15 the season before Tomlinson arrived in 2001 as the fifth overall draft choice from Texas Christian. He strung together eight straight seasons of at least 1,000 yards. He caught 100 passes one year.

He had an all-time great campaign in 2006, when he rushed for 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns and caught 56 passes for 508 yards and three more touchdowns.

Tomlinson will go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in five years. He ranks fifth on the all-time rushing list with 13,684 yards and third in touchdowns with 162. Only Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith scored more touchdowns.

"I love him," Nix said. "I've had some really good, quality time with him when he was with the Jets -- after I left San Diego and he left. He's a class act. He's obviously one of the best running backs ever to play, but a good person, too, a good daddy, a good husband."

Tomlinson and Nix departed San Diego unhappy. Tomlinson spent his last two seasons with the New York Jets and was a strong contributor. He signed a one-day contract with the Chargers so he could retire with them.

Chargers owner "Dean Spanos loved LT," Nix said. "They were close. With the kind of record he had there, that's where he's got to go. It'd be a shame if he left on bad terms and didn't go back there."

Bills roundup: 2012 make or break for Gailey?

By Tim Graham

A roundup of Bills links from hither and yon ...

* Brad Andrews of explores whether Chan Gailey's job should be on the line in 2012. Andrews muses that Gailey needs to be fired if the Bills don't win more than seven games.

* Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan introduces readers to H-back Dorin Dickerson, who made the 90-man roster after a free-agent workout. "Do not be shocked, however, if Dickerson makes the team as a situational role player and special-teams man," Gaughan writes.

* Jay Skurski previews Bills training camp with his checklist of the biggest names and storylines for The Sporting News.

* Associated Press reporter John Wawrow examines the effect of new coordinator Dave Wannstedt on the Bills' defense so far.

* The Buffalo News' Washington Bureau chief, Jerry Zremski, covers the Jefferson Awards black-tie gala Tuesday night, when Buffalo sports legends Jim Kelly and Pat LaFontaine were honored for their community-service work.

* Mike Sullivan of the has been taking a creative and humorous approach to previewing the Bills' season by breaking down the player whose jersey number represents how many days there are until training camp starts. It's funnier than how I just explained it. That's on me. Just check it out.

* Bills CEO Russ Brandon visits with Kiss 98.5 and covers an assortment of topics from the backup quarterback competition to season-ticket sales to the stadium lease talks with Erie County. He says the Bills likely will have sold out their first four games before individual tickets go on sale to the public next month.

Forbes: Mario Williams in rarefied financial air

By Tim Graham

Three months ago, Buffalo Bills fans couldn't fathom one of their players making a list of the planet's highest-paid athletes.

Excuses were rote: It's a small-market team; great players don't want to come here; Ralph Wilson is cheap; the Bills would rather turn a profit than win.

Much has changed around One Bills Drive over the past three months. Forbes reminded us this week with its annual list of the world's 100 highest-paid athletes.

Prized pass-rusher Mario Williams ranked a remarkable 16th on a rundown that also included boxers (commonly the highest-paid international athletes every year), golfers and soccer stars.

Buffalo News business reporter Jonathan Epstein wrote for this morning's edition that Williams has purchased a $2 million mansion on 10.2 acres in Aurora.

Williams, a former No. 1 draft choice, was rich before he signed with the Bills. But the club certainly made him richer.

Although he hasn't played a down for the Bills yet, he received a $19 million signing bonus, bringing his income over the past 12 months to an estimated $33.2 million, tying him with tennis star Rafael Nadal on the Forbes list.

Forbes estimated Williams made $32.9 million in salary and an extra $250,000 in endorsements.

Williams ranked higher than any baseball player (Alex Rodriguez was $200,000 behind) and any auto racer (Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso was $1.2 million behind).

Only seven athletes from U.S. team sports ranked higher than Williams. Five were NFL players and two were from the NBA (LeBron James and Kobe Bryant).

The NFL players ahead of him: Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, 10th overall at $42.4 million; Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, 12th at $37.3 million; Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, 13th at $36.8 million; Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, 14th at $36 million and Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson, 15th at $34.4 million.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a superduperstar you probably would've guessed to be near the top of the list, came in 28th at $27.1 million. Although his household income would obliterate almost the entire field's.

Boxing champion Floyd Mayweather led everyone at $85 million, with fellow pugilist Manny Pacquiao coming in a distant second at $62 million.

Tiger Woods was third at $59.4 million. LeBron James came in fourth at $53 million.

No NHL player made the list. But a few cricket players did.

And to think, three months ago Bills fans had no clue their team would be throwing around cricket money.

Audio: Mark Gaughan from minicamp on T.J. Graham

From Bills minicamp in Orchard Park, Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan discusses rookie wide receiver T.J. Graham and his potential impact on the Bills this season:

Download audio

Mark Anderson shines at Bills minicamp

By Mark Gaughan

Newly acquired defensive end Mark Anderson gave the Bills' offensive line fits during Tuesday's minicamp practice on the grass field behind the BIlls Fieldhouse.

Anderson, the free-agent acquisition from New England, was in the backfield on the third play of the 11-on-11 session to force Ryan Fitzpatrick into an incompletion. He beat left tackle Cordy Glenn on the next play and forced another incompletion. He forced Fitzpatrick into an incompletion on the first snap of the QB's next set of 11-on-11 plays. On the next play, fellow defensive end Mario Williams batted down a Fitzpatrick pass. Anderson had a would-be sack of FItzpatrick on the first play of red-zone work, too.

Tight end Scott Chandler continues to show great hands throughout spring practices. Chandler made a great catch over linebacker Kirk Morrison on the sideline on a throw from Fitzpatrick in seven-on-seven work and had several other good grabs.

Tyler Thigpen worked as the No. 2 quarterback, and Vince Young was No. 3 for most of the sesssion.

Offensive highlights included a TD pass from Fitzpatrick to David Nelson in the back of the end zone with 3 seconds left on the clock in situational red-zone work. The ball was fit into a tight window. Derek Hagan caught a TD pass with a leaping grab in the next session of red-zone work from Fitzpatrick. Cornerback Aaron Williams batted the ball away from Chandler in the corner of the end zone to prevent a TD, a play met by whoops and hollers from the defensive unit. Chandler momentarily had the ball in his hands. Young hit running back Chris Douglas on a sharp throw on a quick slant.

Safety Da'Norris Searcy had the interception of the day, anticipating a throw from Thigpen and jumping over Naaman Roosevelt to grab a sharply thrown ball.

The only players not practicing were Terrence McGee, Eric Wood, Kellen Heard, Erik Pears, Torell Troup and Lionel Dotson.

Stevie Johnson says he's 90 percent

By Jay Skurski

SJohnsonMug11Bills receiver Stevie Johnson took about 10 reps during the team portion of today's first minicamp practice, a small but significant step in his recovery from groin surgery.

Johnson said after the practice on the Bills' grass field he's about 90 percent recovered. Johnson revealed that the surgery he had performed early in May was actually to repair a tear in his groin, which he suffered during last year's training camp.

"Definitely, today was a big step. Still a lot of work to do. Mentally I feel [OK], everything else I think I am pretty good. My groin felt good. I still have to get over the mental aspect of it," he said. "That is why I wanted to come out for this minicamp. I can get acquainted to running routes and try to get over the mental aspect of being out there, cutting on my left leg and trying to trust it. I think this is big. I do not want to go into training camp thinking how I am thinking now out there. I think this is a big step."

Johnson's eager to increase his workload, but understands the need to take things slow. It is June, after all.

"I do not want to be selfish because they are doing a good job with me. But at the same time, I want to be selfish," he said. "I need more so I can get better and get over this mental part. I believe in what they [the team's trainers] are doing. They have given me the right steps since the surgery so I am going to go with what they are doing now. I believe in it."

Johnson didn't miss a game in 2011 despite the injury, becoming the first receiver in team history to post back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick drew a laugh when he was asked how Johnson looked in practice, deadpanning: "I try not to stare down my receivers."

"He did not have a ton of balls thrown his way today. Some of that is just the way they are playing coverage. I talked to him during and after practice to ask him stuff. I think it is good for him to get out there just to get his confidence back in his groin and get his legs under him. I thought he did fine and we had a lot of discussion out there," Fitzpatrick said. "Great to see him out there. He is a special player and he is obviously a guy that we need out there."

Can Buffalo mount a top 10 offensive attack?

By Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick covered a lot of ground in his news conference today.

One topic that surely will interest Bills fans is Fitzpatrick's belief the Bills can have a top 10 offense this season.

"I think that's where we want to be," Fitzpatrick said. "Statistics lie sometimes, and there's a lot of things that go into a successful offense. That's something we look at, though, and something that we see ourselves getting better every year. That's one of those stats where we have continued to improve."

Top 10 is not outrageous to contemplate. Even with their second-half swoon last year, the Bills ranked 14th in total offense at 351.5 yards a game and 14th in scoring at 23.2 points a game.

In 2010, the Bills ranked 25th in total offense at 304.9 yards a game and 28th in scoring at 17.7 points a game.

"We're looking for improvement and taking out some of the turnovers, some of the third-down efficiency, better red-zone efficiency," Fitzpatrick said. "We're excited with a lot of the things that happened last year."

Fitzpatrick's interceptions will be the biggest problem to erase. He led the NFL with a career-high 23 interceptions, eight more than he threw the year before.

But the Bills have all of their top weapons coming back and healthy: running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, receivers Stevie Johnson and David Nelson and tight end Scott Chandler. Third-round draft choice T.J. Graham could open up the offense with his sprinter's speed.

Fitzpatrick loves what he sees from Gilmore so far

By Tim Graham

We had a busy afternoon in Orchard Park, where the Buffalo Bills held their first of this week's three minicamp sessions before closing down operations until training camp.

Reporters just started getting back to the media center. Buffalo News beat writers Mark Gaughan and Jay Skurski will be posting on the blog in a little bit.

For now, here's what Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had to say about rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

Gilmore, the 10th overall selection in this year's draft, has been lining up with the first-team defense. He's giving receivers -- and Fitzpatrick -- trouble. Gilmore defends his man tightly and aggressively.

"He's really talented. He's done a great job," Fitzpatrick said. "We haven't been in pads, but it looks like he's going to be a pretty physical corner. He's got good size to him, runs well."

Fitzpatrick noted two elements of Gilmore's game have especially stuck out in practices.

"He's got great instincts," Fitzpatrick said. "You can tell that right away.

"And the second thing is he wants to be out there and learn the game. He wants to be out there, and he's mad if somebody makes a catch on him. He's got that competitiveness that you need at that position. That's been impressive."

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |