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Bills continually plowing under bottom of roster, practice squad

By Tim Graham

To everything, churn, churn, churn ...

In hopes of maximizing personnel, the Buffalo Bills have been busy rototilling the bottom part of their roster and practice squad this fall.

Over the past nine weeks, the Bills have made 33 player transactions. Few were forced by injuries. Most were made simply to improve depth and bring aboard raw prospects.

"That's something that we're always trying to do because I believe development in this league is extremely important," Bills coach Doug Marrone said, "and that's the way that we can develop players, bringing players in and out and seeing which one sticks."

While the Bills are mathematically alive in the playoff hunt, much of the focus has shifted to player evaluation for the future. That's why veteran running back Tashard Choice was cut, and former practice-squad player Ronnie Wingo will get a look-see over the final four weeks.

Marrone said he meets "constantly" with General Manager Doug Whaley and player personnel director Jim Monos about tweaking the roster with an eye toward the future.

"That's where sometimes those guys pop, and that's where they come from," Marrone said. "I think when you look at the situation that we're in, when I think you look at salary cap, I think that there are certain positions you need to develop. If you don't develop those positions, you're going to get in trouble from a salary cap standpoint and not be the best team you can be if you're relying on paying players at the highest price to play certain positions."

As you'll see below, the Bills regard some developmental positions more prominently than others.

In the final season with GM Buddy Nix and coach Chan Gailey, the Bills made 28 practice-squad signings or releases. That total does not include players who were promoted from the practice squad to the active roster, only those who were added to the developmental squad or released outright.

After the 2012 Bills signed their eight practice-squad players at the start of the year, they didn't make another move for four weeks.

Under Whaley and Marrone, the Bills have made 25 practice-squad moves already. They've also patrolled other teams' taxi squads, plucking defensive tackle Stefan Charles and guard J.J. Unga for the 53-man roster.

After signing their original eight, the Bills made three moves in September, six in October and six in November. The Bills have made two transactions so far in December.

The Bills already have matched last year's number of practice-squad players promoted to the active roster. They've elevated five, most notably quarterback Thad Lewis.

Of last year's promotions, receiver Marcus Easley is the only one still on the active roster. Wide receiver Kevin Elliott is on injured reserve. Safety Mana Silva left the team without permission in training camp, but remains Bills property.

A breakdown of practice-squad transactions the past two years:

2012

Final practice squad: running back Zach Brown, tight end Derek Buttles, offensive lineman Andrew Jackson, tackle Adam Grant, defensive end Corbin Bryant, defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert, linebacker Brian Smith.

Total moves (not counting promotions): 28.

Moves by position: nine offensive lineman, five receiver, four defensive back, three tight end, three defensive tackle, two linebacker, one running back.

Promotions to active roster: defensive tackle Jay Ross, offensive lineman David Snow, receiver Marcus Easley, safety Mana Silva, Ross again after being cut and re-signed and receiver Kevin Elliott.

2013

Current practice squad: quarterback Dennis Dixon, receivers Cordell Roberson and Tommy Streeter, tackles Edawn Coughman and Jamaal Johnson-Webb, defensive end Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, linebacker Jacquies Smith, cornerback Mario Butler.

Total moves (not counting promotions): 25.

Moves by position: eight defensive end, five cornerback, five guard, two quarterback, two receiver, two offensive tackle, one running back.

Promotions to active roster: cornerback Johnny Adams, quarterback Thad Lewis, cornerback Brandon Smith, guard Mark Asper, running back Ronnie Wingo.

The breakdown shows the developmental emphasis shifted to defensive end, from one move last year to a team-high eight so far this year.

Also interesting is that previous Bills management didn't bother with a developmental quarterback, but the new regime has placed an importance there. Good thing, because Lewis helped the Bills remain competitive when rookie EJ Manuel missed four games with a knee injury.

C.J. Spiller, Doug Marrone disagree about sprained ankle

By Tim Graham

For the second year in a row, C.J. Spiller disagrees with his coach regarding the running back's body.

Last season, Spiller took exception with Chan Gailey's opinion that Spiller got "winded" and needed to be removed from games.

Now Spiller disagrees with Bills coach Doug Marrone.

Marrone said this afternoon Spiller's sprained ankle "probably is not as well" than at this time last week and indicated Spiller might be well-served to rest Sunday rather than play against the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome.

Continue reading "C.J. Spiller, Doug Marrone disagree about sprained ankle" »

Bills substantially younger, smaller than a year ago

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills clearly have downsized for 2013.

A year after weighing more than the NFL average, the Bills have one of the lightest teams in the league.

That's what we learned today from the NFL's annual opening-roster demographics report.

The Bills' average weight for Week One was an AFC-low 243.6 pounds. The Detroit Lions were the only team lighter at an average of 242.9 pounds.

Buffalo led the league with 13 players who weighed less than 200 pounds.

The Bills were significantly larger under previous head coach Chan Gailey, who opened 2011 with the NFL's heaviest team at 252.8 pounds per player.

And although last year's Bills shrunk more than five pounds per player, their 247.3 pounds still was above the league average. Last year's Bills had 13 players who weighed at least 300 pounds, tied for second-most in the league. They had eight players who weighed 200 pounds or less; only four teams had fewer.

This year's Bills also got younger. Last year's opening-day roster featured an NFL-low six rookie or first-year players. Their average NFL experience was 4.62 seasons.

Sunday's roster had 14 rookie or first-year players. The average Bill averaged 3.25 years, more than only the Cleveland Browns and Seattle Seahawks.

Multiply the difference by 53 players, and the Bills dropped 72.6 years of NFL experience.

Complete demographic averages from the Bills' opening-day roster (with NFL average) ...

  • Height: 6.17 feet (6.17)
  • Weight: 243.6 pounds (247.5)
  • Age: 25.45 years (26.09)
  • NFL experience: 3.25 seasons (4.04)
  • Rookies and first-year players: 14 (11.09)
  • Players over 30 years old: four (8.25)

Kevin Kolb's head injury puts Bills in precarious QB position

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills' quarterback depth chart has even more question marks today, and it's difficult to fathom they're not in the market to sign another one soon. Perhaps they're already on the phone.

Kevin Kolb went into today's exhibition game against Washington with a chance to reinsert himself into the quarterback competition but left in the first quarter with a head injury.

Kolb was kneed in the back of the head on a scramble. He was taken to the locker room for evaluation and diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms. Kolb has had concussion problems before.

Continue reading "Kevin Kolb's head injury puts Bills in precarious QB position" »

What to look for in Bills-Colts exhibition Sunday

By Tim Graham

INDIANAPOLIS -- Here are a handful of things I'll be looking for Sunday afternoon, when the Buffalo Bills open their preseason against the Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium:

EJ Manuel starts in his NFL debut. With veteran Kevin Kolb limited because he has missed so much practice time, Manuel will get the prime reps and perhaps get an extended look against a defense that with some dynamic players.

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's defensive schemes unveiled -- even if it's just a little. Don't expect Pettine to unload his playbook on the Lucas Oil Stadium carpet. Limited snaps from key defensive components Kyle Williams and Mario Williams will further mute any insight we glean. But we should see at least a semblance of Pettine's philosophies in motion. And I think it will look significantly different than Dave Wannstedt's philosophies in suspended animation.

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett deploys a hurried pace. The Bills have practiced fast, calling their plays as quickly as they can to keep the defense on its heels. What will it look like against another team? How effectively will Manuel and fellow rookie Jeff Tuel be able to process the plays?

Left guards Colin Brown and Doug Legursky in the spotlight. Buffalo let Andy Levitre walk in free agency, and head coach Doug Marrone essentially called out Brown and Legursky last week for not stepping forward more forcefully to fill the void.

Rookie middle linebacker Kiko Alonso in action. Manuel won't be the only rookie starter. Alonso, in fact, was listed as the starter long before Friday night, when Marrone announced Manuel would get the nod. Alonso has the reputation for being a sideline-to-sideline predator. Now we'll get to see what he looks like against first-string NFL players.

Young receivers will be on a fast track. Lucas Oil Stadium is regarded as having one of the NFL's best surfaces. Fans frustrated by Chan Gailey's conservative ways and Ryan Fitzpatrick's weak arm have been waiting to see Buffalo's receivers fly downfield. Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Da'Rick Rogers are making their debuts, and sophomore T.J. Graham would like to fire up his jets, too.

Bills defensive backs have looked flimsy aside from Stephon Gilmore. The secondary has gotten beaten regularly in training camp. They'll face one of the NFL's best quarterbacks in Andrew Luck and won't catch much of a break when the second-stringer enters. That will be veteran Matt Hasselbeck, who beat the Bills last year with the Tennessee Titans.

Veteran kicker Rian Lindell has four games to keep his job; rookie Dustin Hopkins has four games to lose it. Buffalo will open in the same climate-controlled dome where Gailey didn't think Lindell could make a 52-yard field goal last year. Sunday could give Lindell a chance to show he's still got it -- or not.

Kidney disease forces Donald Jones to retire from NFL

By Tim Graham

Donald Jones' final NFL down will have been played for the Buffalo Bills.

Jones, released from the New England Patriots on July 19, announced on his Twitter account that he was retiring because his kidney condition has worsened.

"As some of you may know, I have been suffering from a kidney disease throughout my entire life. As a result of recent advances in my disease, I am no longer able to pursue my career in the National Football League. Playing in the NFL was a lifelong dream of mine, and though I have the opportunity to continue my career, stepping away from the game is absolutely best decision for my family and for my health.

"While it will be difficult, I am comforted by the love and support of my family, friends and doctors and am excited about my continued involvement with the various kidney foundations I've worked with in raising awareness for health, nutrition, preventative medicine and kidney disease.

"I want to thank the Buffalo Bills organization, especially Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix, for allowing me to pursue my NFL dream and Coach Gailey for changing my life. I also want to thank the New England Patriots and their doctors for assisting my medical team in fighting this disease.

"Thank you all for your prayers and wishes."

Jones told Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports the condition is called lgA nephropathy and that Jones might need a transplant eventually. Jones said his blood pressure accelerated to 250 over 110 while taking a stress test as part of a recent physical with the Indianapolis Colts. 

The American Heart Association website suggests anyone with a systolic (upper number) reading over 180 or any diastolic (lower number) reading over 110 should seek emergency medical care.

"I'll always look at it like I was definitely an up-and-coming guy who had a bright future ahead of him. But if I look at it that way, I'll just get down," Jones told Garafolo. "I just try to be positive about everything and realize everything happens for a reason. Playing in the NFL, for me, was bigger than just playing. I want to get awareness up. Playing in the NFL was just a stepping stone to get my awareness up."

Jones, undrafted out of Youngstown State in 2010, played three seasons with the Bills. They declined to re-sign him as a restricted free agent in March.

Jones played 35 games and started 22. He caught 82 passes for 887 yards and six touchdowns.

Although he missed the final four games because of his illness last year, he made with 41 catches for 443 yards and four touchdowns (all second on the Bills behind Stevie Johnson) and recorded the team's longest play from scrimmage, a 68-yard touchdown against the Patriots in Week Four.

Major NFL injuries underscore the randomness of health

By Tim Graham

PITTSFORD -- Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson has said many times in the past that a team needs luck to be successful.

That sentiment is particularly germane given what's happened around the NFL over the past 48 hours and with the Bills holding their first practice of training camp tonight.

Already lost for the season are Philadelphia Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin (knee), Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) and Denver Broncos center Dan Koppen (knee).

Arizona Cardinals rookie receiver Ryan Swope retired over concussion fears. Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Ryan Miller suffered a scary head injury Saturday and was taken off the field by ambulance.

Continue reading "Major NFL injuries underscore the randomness of health" »

Looking back: Buddy Nix's five biggest misses as Bills GM

Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey
Chan Gailey, right, had his moments, but went 16-32 as the Bills' head coach. (James P. McCoy/News file photo)


By Tim Graham

How will we remember Buddy Nix's tenure as Buffalo Bills general manager? With the help of beat reporter Mark Gaughan, we look back on the past three seasons and four drafts under Nix.

Here are his five biggest misses:

Continue reading "Looking back: Buddy Nix's five biggest misses as Bills GM" »

Will new Bills coach Doug Marrone go fourth and conquer?

By Tim Graham

Curiosity abounds with new Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone.

One of the biggies for me is whether he'll be the type to punt from his opponent's 36-yard line or go for it on fourth-and-inches from his own 41.

Previous coach Chan Gailey -- and the man before him, Dick Jauron -- infuriated Bills fans with ultra-conservative fourth-down philosophies at times.

Continue reading "Will new Bills coach Doug Marrone go fourth and conquer?" »

Stevie Johnson excited to learn who his new WR mates will be

SJohnsonTennis
Stevie Johnson is eager to see how the Buffalo Bills will juggle their wide-receiver depth chart for 2013. (Photo: James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)
 

By Tim Graham

Stevie Johnson accounted for a preponderance of the numbers posted by Buffalo Bills wide receivers the past two years.

Subtract the contributions from David Nelson and Donald Jones, as the club did when it announced it won't re-sign them, and Johnson practically is on his own.

Of the wide receivers still on Buffalo's roster, Johnson has been responsible for 70 percent of the catches, 74 percent of the receiving yards and 76 percent of the receiving touchdowns in 2011 and 2012.

Continue reading "Stevie Johnson excited to learn who his new WR mates will be" »

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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 | tgraham@buffnews.com


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 | mgaughan@buffnews.com


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 | jskurski@buffnews.com

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