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Chris Gragg's Rookie Journal: Chapter 3

By Tim Graham

PITTSFORD -- Chris Gragg probably didn't stand out to those who watched the Buffalo Bills' intrasquad scrimmage Monday night.

Over 90 minutes and 100-some plays, Bills quarterbacks targeted him only once. Gragg had zero receptions.

Gragg would've preferred to make a stronger impression. The seventh-round draft choice is fighting for a roster spot at tight end and never can be entirely certain where he stands.

That's life as an NFL rookie.

But a smile crossed Gragg's mug today when he noted he took 48 reps, more than any other Bills tight end Monday night. He's unsure what that means, but it's certainly not a bad thing.

Last year's starter, Scott Chandler, has been limited in his return from reconstructive knee surgery, and Mike Caussin has been sidelined again. Dorin Dickerson made the most plays at tight end Monday night.

"I did a lot of blocking," Gragg said as part of his periodic rookie journal for BuffaloNews.com. "I didn't get any passes. I got one thrown my way, but I think I showed the coaches I can block, especially down on the goal line."

Gragg said feedback from Bills coaches mostly has been positive so far. He admitted the main exception has been about maintaining his energy level when the Bills' staccato offense is several plays into a long drive.

Gragg's eager to show what he can do against players in different uniforms. The Bills will open their preseason Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium.

"At this point in camp, you get real tired of hitting your own teammates," Gragg said. "So you want to go against another team. It's going to be my first NFL game. I'm ready to get under the lights and make some plays."

Sunday won't be Gragg's introduction to an NFL stadium. When he was at Arkansas, he played in Cowboys Stadium and the Superdome for the Sugar Bowl. He was in Lucas Oil Stadium for the NFL scouting combine in February.

Chris Gragg's Rookie Journal: Chapter 2

By Tim Graham

PITTSFORD -- Football was something for Chris Gragg to do in rural Southeast Arkansas. His father was a football coach for whom Gragg would serve as a water boy until junior high.

Gragg blossomed into a pretty big deal in Warren, Ark., a town of bout 6,000 people. The school system there considers one hundred students a healthy class.

By his senior season, recruiting sites ranked him among the best receivers in the state. All he wanted from football at the time was a scholarship and a chance to keep playing on Saturdays.

"My goal was always to play college football," Gragg said. "I never really thought about playing in the NFL because I heard how hard it was and only the top one percentile get there."

Continue reading "Chris Gragg's Rookie Journal: Chapter 2" »

Chris Gragg's Rookie Journal: Chapter 1

By Tim Graham

PITTSFORD -- Buffalo Bills tight end Chris Gragg knows there are zero guarantees for a rookie drafted 222nd overall.

"Just the thought that you could get cut," Gragg said of the most intimidating aspect of his first training camp. "This is not like college, where you're on a scholarship. You know at least for a whole year you can get cut at any time."

Gragg seems to be approaching camp with his eyes wide open. He has agreed to give BuffaloNews.com visitors a glimpse inside his journey.

Over the coming weeks on the Press Coverage blog, Gragg will share the thoughts, concerns and observations from a prospect trying to complete his NFL vision quest.

"It's a dream, things that you always wanted to do since you were little," Gragg said today at St. John Fisher after the Bills finished their second practice of camp. "You're an NFL football player. This is your job now.

"It is kind of surreal, but I try to stay grounded. It's surreal when I talk to my family and friends and they tell me how big of a thing this is. I try to make it seem like I'm still playing football, still the same game you played in the backyard when you were a kid."

The Warren, Ark., native certainly would look out of place playing backyard ball today. He's 6-foot-3 and 244 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, the fastest time of any tight end at this year's NFL scouting combine.

In 43 games for the University of Arkansas, he caught 72 passes for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns. He made the SEC Academic Honor Roll as a sports management major.

Injury concerns caused him to slide down the draft board, the 15th of 16 tight ends drafted. Gragg played only five games last year because of a leg injury. A dislocated ankle sidelined him for all of 2009.

All of that's behind him now. Pittsford is a long way from Fayetteville.

"It's work," Gragg said. "A lot of early mornings, a lot of late nights, a lot of classroom time, a lot of weight room time. It's every day. ... There's a lot going in your mind and coming at you real fast."

Gragg is one of only five tight ends on the roster. Scott Chandler, Lee Smith, Dorin Dickerson and Mike Caussin are the others after the Bills waived Mickey Shuler a day before the first practice.

To win a spot on the roster, Gragg acknowledged he can't rely merely on his receiving skills.

"In college, the game plan usually comes down to the coach putting you in the best position that you can possibly be," Gragg said. "The things that you're really good at, that's what you're going to do.

"Here, versatility makes you more valuable. That's how I think I can stay on the team. I try to be well-rounded."

Gragg made the best catch of today's practice, hauling in a deep pass down the right sideline over cornerback Ron Brooks. As Gragg ran back to the huddle, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett charged toward him for a leaping chest bump.

"I know that the coaches see that, and I try to put on film every day me going hard, whether it be blocking, whether it running routes and catching the ball," Gragg said. "I try to give my best every time."

Buffalo Bills wrap spring practices with red-zone work

By Mark Gaughan

The Buffalo Bills closed their spring practices today with a lot of red-zone work.

Once again, quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and EJ Manuel split most of the work, with Kolb getting the first snaps for the starting unit. Once again, the defense probably was a little ahead of the offense, which is to be expected at this point in the offseason.

Coach Doug Marrone on the end of the team's three-day minicamp and five-week spring workout schedule:

Continue reading "Buffalo Bills wrap spring practices with red-zone work" »

Cowboys unlikely awed by Bills' 2013 draft class

By Tim Graham

The Dallas Cowboys' draft plans apparently weren't foiled by anything the Buffalo Bills did.

BloggingTheBoys.com has reconstructed Dallas' 2013 draft board, which was used as a backdrop for interviews owner Jerry Jones gave to the team's official site. A similar revelation was made in 2010, and the board was confirmed to be the real deal.

With that in mind, we can see what the Cowboys would think of the Bills' draft haul. The Cowboys likely were unimpressed.

Continue reading "Cowboys unlikely awed by Bills' 2013 draft class" »

Scott Chandler's recovery easing Bills' concerns at tight end

By Mark Gaughan

Buffalo Bills tight end Scott Chandler is looking good already in his recovery from major knee surgery.

That's a big deal for the Buffalo Bills' offense, which needs all of the proven weapons it can get.

Chandler tore a knee ligament last Dec. 23 at Miami and had surgery on Jan. 9. However, he is running around well at the Bills' spring practices.

Chandler started running pass routes three weeks ago. This week, he's running routes and catching the ball. He doesn't have a helmet on and he's not participating with the team in individual or team drills. But he was catching balls from quarterback Jeff Tuel today. Chandler was running well.

"I feel good, and I'm excited for the season," Chandler said. "The injury is different than it used to be. The doctors are better. And I have to attribute some of this, I'm a Christian guy. God is the ultimate healer. Just put your faith in him and see how it goes."

Can he be ready for the start of training camp?

"I feel it's realistic," he said.

The 6-foot-7 Chandler caught 43 passes last season, tied for the second most on the team. He has six touchdown catches each of the past two seasons.

There was a lot of speculation about the Bills pursuing a proven tight end in free agency, but they did not. They did take a tight end in the draft, but not until the seventh round, picking Arkansas' Chris Gragg

Analyst takes contrarian view, bullish on Bills receiving corps

By Tim Graham

When examining depth on the Buffalo Bills' roster, many analysts find receiver to be shallow.

NFL.com recently rated the worst position groups and listed Buffalo at wide receiver. On the Press Coverage blog last week, we discussed how troubled Buffalo would be if Stevie Johnson were unavailable.

Behind Johnson, the talent is mediocre or unproven.

All that said, ESPN and Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson loves what the Bills are doing at receiver. He sees a collection of talent that can enter a game in various situations and give defenses problems.

Continue reading "Analyst takes contrarian view, bullish on Bills receiving corps" »

Doug Marrone pleased with his quarterbacks after Day One of rookie camp

EJ Manuel
EJ Manuel prepares to make a pass during practice at the Bills mini-camp on Friday. (James P. McCoy/ Buffalo News)


By Jay Skurski

Quarterback EJ Manuel and the rest of the Buffalo Bills' rookies or first-year players completed a crisp practice of about two hours today inside the team's fieldhouse.

"Our goal as coaches was to come out here, get with these players, and start teaching them the playbook -- whether it be offense, defense or special teams," Bills coach Doug Marrone said. "Really just try to get a chance to know them, how they learn, what they do, and really teach them our tempo of practice and what our expectations are out of them. That was the goal going into today, trying to make sure that they know that."

Marrone said his staff was particularly looking to see who showed up in shape. Not surprisingly, most eyes of the media in attendance were focused squarely on Manuel, the team's first-round draft pick. 

"I thought both quarterbacks did a nice job coming in here," Marrone said of Manuel and undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel. "We gave them -- not a large package -- but we got them off and both the quarterbacks got off to a good start. But, again, the offensive line really blocked well today.

That last part, of course, was a joke. The Bills have just three offensive linemen in rookie camp. Thus, they only held 7-on-7 drills. Marrone said he wasn't paying any extra attention to the quarterbacks, even if the focus of media and fans will undoubtedly be on the position.

"I was interested in looking at the wide receivers also. I think you guys have seen me enough that I do rotate around (to different positions) quite a bit," he said. "People are going to be looking at that (the quarterbacks). I don't doubt that. But I was excited today by those groups of receivers. I thought they did a nice job."

The Bills will hold two more sessions with their rookies and first-year players who do not yet have an accredited season toward the NFL pension over the next two days. The players in camp are as follows:

    Quarterbacks: EJ Manuel, Jeff Tuel.
    Wide receivers: Robert Woods, Da'Rick Rogers, Kevin Norrell, Chris Hogan, Marquise Goodwin, Brandon Kaufman.
    Tight end: Chris Gragg.
    Running backs: Zach Brown, Kendall Gaskins, Drew Smith.
    Offensive linemen: Zack Chibane, Ryan Turnley, Hutch Eckerson.
    Defensive backs: Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks, Nickell Robey, Kip Edwards, Jumal Rolle, Jordan Dangerfield, Dominique Ellis.
    Linebackers: Keith Pough, Kiko Alonso, Kourtnei Brown, Brian Smith.
    Defensive linemen: Corbin Bryant, Izaan Cross, Aaron Tipoti. 
    Specialists: Brian Stahovich (punter), Dustin Hopkins (kicker).

Bills sign seventh-round pick Chris Gragg

By Mark Gaughan

The Buffalo Bills have signed seventh-round draft pick Chris Gragg, the tight end from the University of Arkansas, the team announced.

Gragg, 6-foot-3 and 244 pounds, is the first of the Bills' eight draft picks to reach a contract agreement. Gragg caught 22 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns as a senior in 2012. As a junior in 2011, he had 41 catches for 518 yards.

Gragg showed his athleticism in pre-draft testing, running the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds, fastest among tight ends at the NFL Scouting Combine. He also had the best broad jump (10 feet, 5 inches) and the best vertical jump (37.5 inches) among tight ends in the draft.

All hands on deck for Bills' fullback duties; McIntyre gone

By Tim Graham

What a novelty it was to see defensive tackle Kyle Williams play fullback in a few of the Buffalo Bills' goal-line situations last year.

New head coach Doug Marrone intends to use his grunts down there on the regular.

"You'll see it when you get down probably to the goal line, short yardage or maybe bringing in a defensive tackle or an offensive lineman or things like that going on," Marrone said at the Bills' post-draft news conference Saturday.

"I look at it as you can only dress so many for that game, how much are you going to get to use at this position or this player and that. So you have to look for the versatility I believe."

Continue reading "All hands on deck for Bills' fullback duties; McIntyre gone" »

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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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