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."
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
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
"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
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:
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
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.
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).
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.