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Shawne Merriman doesn't miss being 'Lights Out'

By Tim Graham

MerrimanMugPITTSFORD -- One of the chief Shawne Merriman criticisms from his time with the San Diego Chargers was that he was too enamored with being "Lights Out."

He loved rubbing elbows with celebrities in Hollywood and Las Vegas. His very public and messy relationship with Tila Tequila was a sideshow. He appeared in music videos, pro wrestling events and television shows.

There's not much opportunity to maintain that "Lights Out" persona in Western New York, but Merriman claimed today he has made the lifestyle transition.

When the Bills claimed Merriman off waivers in 2010, an NFL executive told me Buffalo could turn out to be the right spot for Merriman. 

"It might be the best thing to get him away from Hollywood, from San Diego, from the bright lights," the executive said. "In Buffalo it's all about football and only football. Maybe he will remember what football means to him."

Merriman, while speaking with reporters after this morning's walkthrough at St. John Fisher College, indicated that has happened to be the case. He was asked if he missed being a headliner.

"I used to miss it," Merriman said. "Not now so much, now that I am used to doing the things I'm accustomed to doing."

Merriman was the toast of Southern California when he exploded onto the scene as a rookie in 2005. He went to three straight Pro Bowls, racking up 39.5 sacks in that span as a dominant outside linebacker.

Now he's taking second-team reps as a 4-3 defensive end in his third season. He played only eight games the past two seasons, but he has expressed nothing but optimism about his recovery from Achilles surgery last year.

Merriman said "I'm still not where I want to be," but declared he intends to "be a game-changer" this year.

"We'll see," Merriman said. "You know, it's not about talking anymore about what I can do or what happened in the past or how good things were in the past. You just have to go out and do it, and that's all I've been concentrating on. ... It's just going out every day and working."

HOF to dedicate Ralph Wilson research center

By Tim Graham

The Pro Football Hall of Fame will dedicate the Ralph Wilson Jr. Pro Football Research and Preservation Center next Friday morning as part of its induction weekend.

Wilson donated $2.5 million to the Hall of Fame to construct the 10,000-square-foot facility. He and his wife are scheduled to be in Canton for the ribbon-cutting ceremony along with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"Ralph Wilson's outstanding contributions to pro football over many decades are legendary," Steve Perry, Hall of Fame president and executive director, said in a news release. "His generous gift has greatly enhanced our ability to preserve the Hall of Fame's rapidly growing collection of historic documents and artifacts."

The Wilson Research and Preservation Center will house more than 20 million document pages and 3 million photographs from the Hall of Fame's collection. It will include a rare-books room, a researcher's reading room and a video-conferencing lab to connect schools around the country to the Hall of Fame's resources.

Sapp, McGinest tap brakes on Buffalo's defense

By Tim Graham

Can the Buffalo Bills field a top-five defense?

The question was posed to NFL Network analysts Warren Sapp and Willie McGinest, retired defenders with nine Pro Bowls and four Super Bowl rings between them.

They each declined to put the Bills in such elite class, although McGinest was more diplomatic than Sapp was.

"Wow, that's tough," McGinest said. "I've got my list right here. When I look at the top-five defenses: Pittsburgh, Houston, Baltimore, San Francisco, the Jets surprisingly was in there.

"I think some teams lower down, I think the Philadelphia Eagles will move up. I think the Dallas Cowboys, the Chicago Bears will do a better job.

"I don't think [the Bills] will jump in the top five unless that offense is just on fire."

Before McGinest could finish those last few words, Sapp blurted "No. No is the answer you're looking for."

I happen to agree, and that shouldn't be viewed as an insult. The Bills' defense has been a customary walkover. Upper third in the NFL would be a dramatic improvement.

Starting with last season and moving backward, the Bills have ranked 26th, 24th, 19th, 14th, 31st, 18th and 29th in total defense and 30th, 28th, 16th, 14th, 18th, 10th and 24th in points allowed.

The last time the Bills had a top-five defense was under Mike Mularkey in 2004, when they finished second in yards and eighth in points. The season before under Gregg Williams, the Bills finished second in yards and fifth in points.

One voter's ballot on the NFL's best

By Jay Skurski

The Sporting News annually asks its 32 NFL correspondents (I'm included in that group, covering the Bills) to fill out a preseason survey identifying the offensive and defensive MVPs in each division, along with a few other categories. I thought I'd share my selections with you here, and invite you to weigh in with your comments. I'll blog the final results when they're released next month. Until then, here are my picks, along with a few thoughts I had along the way. 

NFC East
Offensive MVP: Eli Manning
Defensive MVP: Jason Pierre-Paul (There was some homerism here, being that I'm a South Florida graduate, but I think Pierre-Paul can justify this pick. It was hard going against DeMarcus Ware, though.)
Best coach: Tom Coughlin
Best rookie: Robert Griffin III
Breakout player: Tyron Smith
NFC North
Offensive MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Defensive MVP: Jared Allen
Best coach: Mike McCarthy
Best rookie: Matt Kalil
Breakout player: Gabe Carimi
NFC South
Offensive MVP: Drew Brees
Defensive MVP: Brent Grimes (Wasn't wowed by the defensive talent in this division. Jon Beason of the Panthers is coming back from injury, Atlanta's John Abraham is getting older, etc.)
Best coach: Mike Smith
Best rookie: Mark Barron
Breakout player: Julio Jones
NFC West
Offensive MVP: Larry Fitzgerald
Defensive MVP: Patrick Willis
Best coach: Jim Harbaugh
Best rookie: Michael Brockers 
Breakout player: K.J. Wright
AFC East
Offensive MVP: Tom Brady
Defensive MVP: Darrelle Revis (I thought about Mario Williams, but only for a second. He hasn't been healthy enough the past two years to unseat the game's best cornerback.)
Best coach: Bill Belichick
Best rookie: Stephon Gilmore
Breakout player: Nate Solder (Serious consideration here for Marcell Dareus. Coin flip, really, but Solder will be protecting Brady's blind side.)
AFC South
Offensive MVP: Andre Johnson
Defensive MVP: Johnathan Joseph (Another division where I wasn't blown away by the defensive talent.)
Best coach: Mike Munchak
Best rookie: Andrew Luck
Breakout player: Brooks Reed (Thought hard about Colts linebacker Pat Angerer here, but I feel like he's pretty established. Defining a "breakout" player isn't easy -- as such our guidelines called for a player with less than three years of experience ready to take the next step in their career.)
AFC North
Offensive MVP: Ray Rice
Defensive MVP: Troy Polamalu (Honorable mention to Baltimore's Haloti Ngata. I just love Polamalu's game.)
Best coach: Mike Tomlin
Best rookie: Trent Richardson
Breakout player: Joe Haden
AFC West
Offensive MVP: Peyton Manning (Betting that he stays healthy, obviously.)
Defensive MVP: Tamba Hali
Best coach: John Fox
Best rookie: Melvin Ingram
Breakout player: Demaryius Thomas (The Peyton Manning impact.)

AFC East's best: No. 1 Tom Brady

By Tim Graham

BradyMugThe countdown of my top 25 AFC East players concludes right here ...

The choice

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is in the discussion for the single greatest player of all-time. He has won three Super Bowls and five conference championships. He's a seven-time Pro Bowler, including each of the past three years. He has been an All-Pro three times and became the first unanimous Associated Press MVP winner for 2010.

Brady is 21 yards shy of 40,000. He has completed 64 percent of his passes. He has thrown 300 touchdowns and just 115 interceptions.

Brady's regular-season record as a starter is an astounding 124-35. His .780 win percentage is the best, 34 points higher than Roger Staubach in second place. Brady is 16-6 in the postseason, putting him behind only Terry Bradshaw in win percentage (minimum 15 starts) and tying him with Joe Montana for the most wins.

His career 94.1 passer rating is fourth all-time. Only Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and Fran Tarkenton have thrown more touchdowns. Brady's interception percentage of 2.2 is behind only Aaron Rodgers and Neil O'Donnell.

Fast fact

Brady's six touchdown passes against the Denver Broncos in last season's divisional round tied Daryle Lamonica and Steve Young for the NFL postseason record.

How acquired

Selected in the sixth round (199th overall) of the 2000 draft.

The list

1. Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback
2. Darrelle Revis, Jets cornerback
3. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots tight end
4. Nick Mangold, Jets center
5. Wes Welker, Patriots receiver
6. Mario Williams, Bills defensive end
7. Vince Wilfork, Patriots nose tackle
8. Jake Long, Dolphins left tackle
9. Logan Mankins, Patriots left guard
10. Cameron Wake, Dolphins outside linebacker
11. Fred Jackson, Bills running back
12. D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Jets left tackle
13. Kyle Williams, Bills defensive tackle
14. Sione Pouha, Jets defensive tackle
15. Jairus Byrd, Bills safety
16. Brandon Lloyd, Patriots receiver
17. Stevie Johnson, Bills receiver
18. Reggie Bush, Dolphins running back
19. Jerod Mayo, Patriots inside linebacker
20. Randy Starks, Dolphins defensive lineman
21. Sebastian Vollmer, Patriots right tackle
22. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots tight end
23. Marcell Dareus, Bills defensive tackle
24. Antonio Cromartie, Jets cornerback
25. Eric Wood, Bills center

Mario Williams doesn't have a bed fit for a king

By Tim Graham

WilliamsMMugPITTSFORD -- The Buffalo Bills probably ought to help Mario Williams furnish his dorm room.

Otherwise, a nagging injury situation might be unfolding.

Williams, the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, is sleeping on twin beds at St. John Fisher. He's 6 foot 7 and 292 pounds. There's no way he's sleeping comfortably. Lumbar woes await.

That's why Bills players generally bring their own mattresses to camp.

"This is my first time being away from home because typically we would have camp in town," Williams said, comparing his St. John Fisher experience with the Houston Texans' setup. "This is a little different.

"When I got here guys were, like, 'Did you call Rent-A-Center?' and I said 'No, I didn't call Rent-A-Center.' Nobody even told me about it until I got here. I am sleeping on twin-size beds and no TV."

Each media outlet that regularly covers training camp gets use of a dorm room. I'm writing in The Buffalo News' dorm room right now and just tested out the length of the beds. I'm 6-2. I barely fit.

Even if Williams pushes two beds together, a 292-pound man is going to find the gap.

Fittingly, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell today sent out an email to current and former players, informing them about the launch of the NFL Total Wellness Program.

"Its mission is to build on our programs and services that enhance the physical and mental health of our people," the letter said.

Somebody from the Bills might want to protect the wellness of their investment by having a California-king-sized bed shipped to Williams' door. Or maybe Williams should call Raymour & Flanigan. A nice tip could get him a new mammoth bed by sundown.

"It is not a big deal, but I just didn't know," Williams said. "So it was a shock. This is my first time ever being away from home for a camp, so it is definitely different, But it's cool. We are here to take care of business.  It is not like we will be messing around in the rooms."

Fitz to Stevie among highlights of Day One

By Mark Gaughan

The Ryan Fitzpatrick-to-Stevie Johnson connection looked to be in regular-season form during the first day of training camp at St. John Fisher College. The Buffalo Bills' quarterback hooked up repeatedly with his favorite receiver throughout the team drills. On just the second play of 11-on-11 work, Fitzpatrick hit Johnson with an accurate deep pass down the left sideline, and Johnson hauled it in a step behind rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

Fitzpatrick was on target most of the day. The Bills practiced with softer "shell" pads on their shoulders. It was a session that looked a lot like spring workouts because the team was not in full pads. That will come in several days. A crowd of about 300 watched.

While Gilmore got beat on the pass to Johnson, he looked good on his first day. The Bills' first-round pick was like glue on most receivers all day long. He worked exclusively with the starters. The other starting corner was Aaron Williams, and Leodis McKelvin was the nickel corner.

Terrence McGee (knee) saw only very limited duty in team drills. Center Eric Wood (knee) also worked only a bit in individual drills. Defensive tackle Torell Troup (back) was a little sore and was held out of most of the action.

In one-on-one blocking drills, defensive end Mark Anderson looked great, showing a good burst. Defensive end Shawne Merriman showed his form of old on his first snap, whipping around rookie Cordy Glenn. Big guard Michael Jasper was stout in his snaps. In one-on-one passsing drills, rookie Tank Carder had a good moment, getting a pass breakup against C.J. Spiller. Carder also had an interception off a Vince Young pass in 7-on-7 work.

Depth-chart information: With Wood resting, Kraig Urbik started at center, and Chad Rinehart took Urbik's right guard spot. The second-team O-Line was, left to right, Glenn, Jasper, Colin Brown, Keith Williams and Sam Young. The third-team O-Line was, left to right, James Carmon, David Snow, Mark Asper, Jake Vermiglio and Zebrie Sanders. The receivers rotated a ton. But generally, Derek Hagan was the third outside guy with the first unit behind Johnson and Donald Jones.

Defensive depth-chart info: Anderson started at right end on the defensive line. The linebackers rotated a ton depending on their situational roles. The second-team defensive line was: Chris Kelsay, Spencer Johnson, Dwan Edwards and Merriman. The second-team linebackers were Nigel Bradham, Scott McKillop or Chris White, and Arthur Moats. However, Moats got snaps with the starters in a variety of nickel situations.

The third-team D-Line was Robert Eddins, Alex Carrington, Kellen Heard and Kyle Moore.
Highlight plays in 11-on-11 work included some sharp throws from Fitzpatrick to slot receiver David Nelson, along with a couple of slants and intermediate sideline strikes to Stevie Johnson. Rian Lindell booted a field goal from 55 yards.

A look at AFC East top 25 player omissions

By Tim Graham

My AFC East top 25 list will conclude Friday morning, and since we can guess who No. 1 will be (hint: It doesn't rhyme with Shim Shebow), I thought it would be a good time to address all the various grievances volleyed my way over perceived snubs.

As I've said all along, there are a horde of great players in the AFC East. Several very good players, even reigning Pro Bowlers, didn't make the list. I'll try to explain a few decisions, and then you can vote on who you thought the most glaring omission was.

First, I need to mention two players who would've made my top 25 if their status wasn't so cloudy: right guard Brian Waters and defensive end Andre Carter, standouts for the New England Patriots last season.

Waters is coming off his sixth Pro Bowl in eight seasons, but nobody has made a definitive statement about his future. He might retire, a possibility bolstered by his decision not to report to camp this week. But it's possible he and coach Bill Belichick have an understanding. Waters is 35. He could be saving himself for the regular season with Belichick's blessing.

Carter, a Pro Bowler with 10 sacks last season, remains a free agent. Therefore, I couldn't include him on my list. He might end up with a team outside the AFC East.

Miami Dolphins nose tackle Paul Soliai, a franchise-tag player and Pro Bowler last season, was on the cusp of making my list. But I simply didn't have enough room.

Same with New York Jets linebacker David Harris. He has gained a reputation as one of the NFL's most underrated players. He had another fine statistical season with five sacks and four interceptions -- bonus production from an inside linebacker -- but I value other positions more.

My list featured Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis at No. 2, nose tackle Sione Pouha at No. 14 and cornerback Antonio Cromartie at No. 24. Inside linebackers are easier to find than great defensive linemen and corners. They had priority. Bart Scott didn't make my list either. Patriots star Jerod Mayo, at No. 19, was the only inside linebacker to appear.

Although there wasn't a loud protest, I did hear from a few Buffalo Bills fans who thought newcomer Mark Anderson should make the cut. Anderson tied Carter for the Patriots' sack lead last season, but Anderson has started only six games over the past four seasons. Let's remember Tully Banta-Cain had 10 sacks for the Patriots two seasons ago.

Bills guard Andy Levitre almost made the cut. He has proven himself to be a versatile and highly reliable offensive lineman, but those 25 spots filled up quickly.

Strangely enough, I haven't fielded a single complaint about Tim Tebow not appearing in the top 25.

Based on the NFL Network's Top 100 Players of 2012 list, Tebow is the AFC East's ninth-best player. Feel free to call me a contrarian.

Now is your time to vote on the player you think most deserved to make the top 25. Because my clientele mostly is comprised of Bills fans, I broke the poll into two categories: Bills and non-Bills. Any Bills player in a poll with other AFC East players would've distorted the results.

Audio: Bills chatter with 'Shredd and Ragan'

By Tim Graham

On the "Shredd and Ragan Show" today, I had the chance to speak with the guys about the chief storylines heading into training camp:

Among the topics we discussed:

* Dealing with high expectations and whether GM Buddy Nix or head coach Chan Gailey should be on the hot seat if the Bills don't win.

* How the renovated defense should help Ryan Fitzpatrick this year.

* What kind of stranglehold rookie Cordy Glenn has on the left tackle job.

* How clearly Donald Jones is ahead of T.J. Graham, Marcus Easley, Derek Hagan and David Clowney for the No. 2 receiver spot.

* My culture change story that ran earlier this week in The Buffalo News.

Bills roundup: Overture, curtain, lights

By Tim Graham

On the opening day of training camp, and with the first live practice less than two hours away, here are some Buffalo Bills preview links:

* The Kick Is Good offers valuable tips for fans planning to attend training camp at St. John Fisher College.

* Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan sets the stage in today's paper by gauging the Bills' excitement level in Pittsford.

* Associated Press reporter John Wawrow writes the Bills are embracing the outside expectations and intend to meet them.

* Olean Times Herald sports editor Chuck Pollock expects attendance -- lagging in recent years -- to pick up at St. John Fisher because of excitement around the team.

* WGR's Chris Parker sums it up: "The way it usually works for me is I get excited when practice starts and then realize it's still just practice. Then I start looking forward to the first exhibition game.  Then the third quarter of the first exhibition game shows up and I'm pretty much ready for September."

* As part of his camp overview, blogger James Walker writes there shouldn't be a quarterback controversy with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Vince Young.

* writer Chris Brown examines how much Buffalo's rookies gained during their two-week run-up to camp.

* No. 4 on Sports Illustrated writer Peter King's list of camp thoughts pertains to the "new hope" around Buffalo.

* Pro Football Weekly posted training-camp capsules for every team, broken down by division.

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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 |