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C.J. Spiller eager to move past his rookie flashback performance

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C.J. Spiller says he needs to let the offensive line work for him instead of relying just on his speed. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News file photo)

By Tim Graham

Seated comfortably in the shade at St. John Fisher College less than three weeks ago, C.J. Spiller reflected on his jittery early days with the Buffalo Bills.

Spiller spoke with me about the problems he experienced while adapting to the NFL and how he overcame being a frustrated young runner who tried too hard and often got thrown for losses.

"Being a speed guy, trying to use that quickness instead of just letting my offensive line work for me, I was trying to do my job and their job. Compared to college, I could probably do my offensive line's job and get positive yards. Up here, that might turn into a negative play.

"It's a realization that a 2- and 3-yard run in this league is a pretty good run sometimes. We all know rushing yards are hard to come by. Take the positive runs instead of the negative.

"Once that clicked, I took off from there."

For at least one Sunday, though, Spiller played like a rookie again. And he knows it.

Given all the expectations for Spiller and a general belief he'd become a bona-fide NFL showstopper, his season debut was a clunker. Spiller averaged 2.4 yards a carry and 2.8 yards per catch.

"I kind of went back to some of my old stuff," Spiller said today at One Bills Drive. "That was really the biggest thing when I said I was disappointed. I went back to some of my old habits. I wasn't letting the offensive line do their job. I was rushing stuff.

"But the great thing about it is they're very correctable. That's the thing I've been getting preached on: Just do the little things, take my time, tempo and then whenever I make a decision just go with it. I think Sunday, there was just so much going on."

Spiller laughed sheepishly when I asked if he had opening-day jitters. He'd had an emotional offseason. He hadn't played since the day his step-grandfather shot four men, killing two, and then committed suicide in Spiller's hometown of Lake Butler, Fla.

As for football, Spiller has herculean goals he wants to accomplish. He also knows how crucial he is to Buffalo's offense and for easing the burdens on rookie quarterback EJ Manuel.

Perhaps Spiller was a little too tightly wound.

"Just wanting to go out there and -- I don't want to say prove anything -- but try to make too many plays," Spiller said. "I was forcing it instead of just letting that big play come. I was looking for that big play each time, and it hurt us, and it hurt me. ... I have to start taking what they give me."

Of Spiller's 17 rushing attempts, 11 were for 2 yards or shorter. He was stopped for no gain three times and tackled for minus yardage twice.

Three of his receptions were for 2 yards or shorter, including a loss.

"Cutbacks was there," Spiller said. "There was a couple plays where I could've got probably 3 or 4 yards, where I tried to get outside. That was just me trying to be impatient, trying to revert back to some of my old habits."

A couple particular plays irritated him.

On his second carry, he fumbled to set up an easy New England touchdown.

"Any time you put the ball on the ground and put your defense in a bad situation like that, it definitely frustrates you," Spiller said. "I think I kind of let it linger on too much instead of doing what I've done in the past and putting that bad play behind me."

Later in the first quarter, he broke through the middle for an 8-yard gain, but was taken down by New England safety Steve Gregory.

"When I let the safety tackle me one-on-one, I got frustrated in that moment," Spiller said. "I feel I should win that battle every time. My offensive line do a good job of getting me to the secondary; they expect me to win when I get there."

Next up is a defense that rendered Marshawn Lynch moot. The Carolina Panthers held the Seattle Seahawks' star running back to 43 yards on opening day.

Spiller insisted he'll be ready for the challenge.

"If you want to become one of the great players, you have to be able to, win or lose, put that game behind you and move on," Spiller said. "I'm not worried about that performance derailing or having an effect on the whole season. It's just one game."

EJ Manuel: More vertical passes are part of Sunday's game plan

By Tim Graham

EJ Manuel wasn't coy about the Buffalo Bills' offensive objectives Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

In response to a question about throwing deep on the Panthers, Manuel said, "It's extremely important. You want to stretch the field, and that's what we plan on doing."

You don't say ...

The Bills didn't complete any passes longer than 18 yards in Sunday's season opener against the New England Patriots. Twenty of Manuel's 27 pass attempts traveled 9 yards or shorter in the air, according to play charts from analytics site ProFootballFocus.com.

"The game plan was different for New England than it was for this weekend," Manuel said.

Field-stretching receivers T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin had one target apiece against New England. Graham's was incomplete. Goodwin's catch was for zero yards, and he fumbled it. Then he broke his hand.

Manuel said the Bills want to get Graham more touches and that "I know this week he'll get a lot more."

Vertical completions can help open up Buffalo's running game, especially against a sturdy Carolina run defense that limited Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch to 43 yards and a 2.5-yard average.

Stevie Johnson admitted he's eager to open up the passing game.

"Throughout practice, I'm very excited, but I'm patient and I'm ready for it," Johnson said. "But on Sundays I'm probably a little more impatient because I see what we have. Hopefully, everybody else sees what we have, too."

MemoraBillia: Collectors should gravitate to Buffalo's rookies

By Tim Graham

When it comes to the latest sports cards, nothing drives the market like hot rookies.

For a change, the Buffalo Bills have them this year.

The Bills haven't been too relevant in the industry. The Bills have misfired on many picks, and some of their best either played positions that simply don't appeal to collectors (linemen, defensive players) or took time to develop.

Continue reading "MemoraBillia: Collectors should gravitate to Buffalo's rookies" ยป

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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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