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Chan Gailey admits Bills backfield rotation felt 'awkward'

By Tim Graham

Maybe -- just maybe -- the Buffalo Bills will have a feature back next year.

Chan Gailey admitted Monday "it felt awkward" to rotate running backs this season. He wouldn't commit to it for 2013 when asked.

Gailey has been criticized for his usage of running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Gailey insisted that a rotation was proper for this year, but he acknowledged it broke from his career-long coaching practice of riding a lead back.

I wrote this on Sept. 9, when we emerged from the preseason and wondered how Gailey would split the carries between Spiller and Jackson:

As for how Gailey will split the carries, his track record shows he prefers a workhorse back.

He saddled up Bobby Humphrey as Denver Broncos offensive coordinator, Emmitt Smith as Dallas Cowboys head coach, Lamar Smith as Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator, Jerome Bettis as Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator and Larry Johnson as Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator.

Obviously, superstar backs such as Emmitt Smith and Bettis would be fed the ball constantly. But with Gailey calling plays, their backups were barely used. In 1997, the Steelers' second-leading rusher was quarterback Kordell Stewart.

But there has been no workhorse this year. Gailey provided insight into his thinking Monday afternoon at One Bills Drive. He revealed Spiller and Jackson were going to split the snaps from the get-go.

"Last year, when C.J. got a chance to play and showed how explosive he was," Gailey said of when he changed his mind on having a feature back. "We came into the season, saying 'We've got two great backs. Let's use them both. Let's let them both get carries, that way we may not wear one down and we may keep them for the whole year,' which didn't work out. But that was the point.

"I didn't have discussions with the staff. We made the decision. It seemed like the best decision at the time, which I still believe it's the best decision that we could've made, considering our situation with two great players.

"I'd do it again if I had it to do over. ... It was the best decision, and you go with the best decision. There's a lot of things that have happened that I didn't do 10, 15 years ago the same.

Spiller has 144 carries and 34 receptions for 1,298 yards from scrimmage. Jackson, whose season ended Sunday with a knee injury, has 115 carries and 34 receptions for 654 yards. Jackson missed three games this year because of a knee injury and a concussion.

Jackson's latest injury is considered minor and won't require surgery. That means Gailey will have another backfield philosophy to mull -- if he's still the head coach.

So for 2013?

"We'll evaluate that at the end of the year," Gailey said. "I'm not going to speculate about where that would be next year."

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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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]

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