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Jared Allen marvels at C.J. Spiller, won't compare to Adrian Peterson

By Tim Graham

When writing my NFL Sunday piece on Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller, one of the players I sought out was Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.

Spiller's aim is to be considered the NFL's best running back. To do that, he'll need to overtake reiging MVP Adrian Peterson.

Allen and Peterson are entering their sixth season together with the Vikings. Allen had a chance to see Spiller up close when the Vikings visited Ralph Wilson Stadium in the preseason.

"He's a quick back," Allen said of Spiller. "If he sees daylight, he'll bounce the ball and take it to the outside. And he's a tough runner. He'll break some tackles. He has that big-play ability.

"The biggest thing is that he's not just a downhill guy. He has the speed to break it to the outside and break a tackle and create yards after contact. Those kinds of runners are dynamic in that way because you can play your gap, and you can shut it down all you want, but if he can outrun you to the sideline and create mismatches out on the edge, then it can be difficult."

Continue reading "Jared Allen marvels at C.J. Spiller, won't compare to Adrian Peterson" »

NFL Sunday Outtakes: C.J. Spiller dazzled HS coach with NFL drive

By Tim Graham

In this week's NFL Sunday story, my goal was to give readers as deep of a look inside C.J. Spiller's formative years as I could.

With so much fascinating personal material to present, the profile couldn't include all the football anecdotes I gathered through my research. There simply wasn't enough room to cram all of it in.

One of Spiller's seminal football moments was visiting the Pro Football Hall of Fame with his high school coach's family. Spiller told me he was inspired by the displays and bronze busts. It was then, he said, that he decided he wanted to be not only a great football payer, but also legendary.

Continue reading "NFL Sunday Outtakes: C.J. Spiller dazzled HS coach with NFL drive" »

NFL Sunday Outtakes: Curtis Martin's poison pill

By Tim Graham

One of Eugene Parker's signature maneuvers as an NFL agent was helping future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin bolt the New England Patriots for the New York Jets with the help of a poison-pill contract.

The saga was too elaborate to detail in my profile of Parker in Sunday's edition of The Buffalo News.

But Martin and Bill Parcells spoke with me about the controversial poison-pill offer sheet that changed the way NFL business is done.

"He's creative, he's insightful and he's a bulldog when it comes to getting what you deserve," Martin said of Parker. "Even if the fans don't respect him, at the end of the day it's the general managers and the players and the league that need to respect him, and they all have such respect for Eugene."

Continue reading "NFL Sunday Outtakes: Curtis Martin's poison pill" »

NFL Sunday Outtakes: More insight into who Eugene Parker is

By Tim Graham

The chief reason I wanted to write a profile on NFL agent Eugene Parker was to find out who the man is, where he came from, what he believes in.

Parker is an elusive figure when it comes to the public spotlight. He doesn't return calls from reporters looking for a scoop on a client's contract situation. He rarely does interviews and never conducts news conferences. He's a borderline recluse.

As such, Parker has a negative reputation among fans as a puppeteer who orchestrates holdouts to squeeze cash out of teams and sometimes coerces them to trade his clients.

That reputation doesn't jibe with reality, as I quickly learned by speaking with those who've worked with Parker.

Continue reading "NFL Sunday Outtakes: More insight into who Eugene Parker is" »

NFL Sunday outtakes: Role of sports journalism in mythmaking

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo News cleared about 80 column inches for Sunday's story about Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, his legacy, two dead men and some inconvenient questions.

While that's about five times the length of an average newspaper story, it still wasn't even space for me to include all of the fascinating insight I gathered in my research about Lewis and how he should be viewed as a human being, not merely one of the NFL's greatest players.

Dr. Lawrence Wenner, a professor of communication and ethics at Loyola Marymount University, delivered some attention-grabbing thoughts about how sports journalists are complicit in the mythmaking machine.

Continue reading "NFL Sunday outtakes: Role of sports journalism in mythmaking" »

NFL Sunday Outtakes: Dickerson, Martin on committee backfields


By Tim Graham

Not much was lopped onto the cutting room floor to produce my most recent NFL Sunday feature.

But in speaking with eight Pro Football Hall of Fame running backs, there still were some choice cuts that didn't make it into the story about C.J. Spiller and how the Buffalo Bills use him -- and how today's NFL deploys its running backs in general.

Eric Dickerson and Curtis Martin shared their thoughts on why the NFL has drifted away from backfields dominated by one player to a committee approach.

Dickerson led the NFL in carries three times and rushing yards four times, including a record 2,105 yards in 1984.

"It's to keep salaries down at that position, and some guys just get stuck in a system where they make you believe it's better to split carries. That's just not true. I look at guys like Adrian Peterson or Maurice Jones-Drew or Arian Foster. Those are guys that want to carry the football.

"Running backs haven't changed. The NFL just has turned into a passing league. People want to see the ball thrown. They want to see a lot of points. In our day, if a receiver couldn't get off the line, you're stuck. Too bad. But now you can't touch them, and you can't touch the quarterback.

"I hate that they're kind of phasing the running back out. But I don't think it'll happen. I think the running back will re-emerge, where you'll have like when I played, seven or eight guys whose names you could rattle off pretty fast. Now, you go, 'Oh, I forgot about him.' Or you have two-back systems."

Martin led the NFL in carries and yards in 2004 at the age of 31.

"This is one trend that I'm not sure will go back to the way it was. For a lot of guys, it can prolong careers. For a lot of guys, I think it works.

"But for a guy like myself, it wouldn't have worked. I was one of those guys who needed the ball at least 15 times before I felt like I caught my second wind, where I felt I was really into my groove.

"Unfortunately, for running backs, with this new style that's taking place, I find it hard for a lot of guys to break into that all-time top rushers 10 anymore. It's running back by committee, and another unfortunate thing is they become more expendable. They're not worked as much."

(Photo: Associated Press)

NFL Sunday Outtakes: Tact keeps quotes off bulletin board

By Tim Graham

In the latest installment of "NFL Sunday Outtakes," Steve Tasker explains why bulletin-board material is not some motivational football myth.

I interviewed the Buffalo Bills Wall of Famer for a feature about the etiquette of being outspoken in the NFL.

On avoiding inflammatory remarks about an opponent:

"Anything you say that can be bent or misconstrued or even taken out of context that another team can put up on their bulletin board will lose you football games. Plain and simple. There's no getting around it.

TaskerAP"If you have one player on your team comes out and says a player on the other team stinks, particularly if you pick a beloved member of that other team, that team will rise up and cave your head in. I've seen it happen time and again. Even if it's joking, they'll take it seriously, and they'll beat you up."

On the significance of bulletin-board material:

"The line between the best teams in the league and the worst teams in the league is miniscule, and if you get a team that plays inspired one week, they will beat just about anybody. I don't care if they're 0-11. If you can give them something to feed on, they will rise up. It's a fact.

"To have somebody say something in the media about a player or a coaching staff or even a city, it's a huge, huge mistake.

"To have somebody outside the building somehow disparage your efforts or abilities, that goes a long, long way to having guys play well. It turns up the notch of concentration. It's like playing on a completely different team when you feel like you've been insulted."

On Bills defensive line coach Chuck Dickerson ridiculing the Washington Redskins' famed Hogs offensive line before Super Bowl XXVI:

"I've never seen or played against a team or covered a team that would've beaten the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXVI after our assistant coach said what he said. You ask them. They'll tell you that was hugely inspiring for them. Believe me, I've asked them."

(Photo: Associated Press)

NFL Sunday Outtakes: Darryl Talley gives thoughts on 2012 Bills


By Tim Graham

If eye rolls made a sound, then I would've heard them over the phone from Orlando on Friday.

Darryl Talley was talking about the 2012 Buffalo Bills. He wasn't impressed.

Granted, this was two days before his old team thumped the Jacksonville Jaguars, 34-18, in Ralph Wilson Stadium. But I doubt his opinions have changed too much.

I called Talley for a feature about the etiquette of being outspoken, a story that ran in Sunday morning's Buffalo News. The emotional former Bills linebacker and I were on the phone for nearly an hour, straying from the topic on a few occasions to chat about the current state of the Bills.

As I did with after last Sunday's feature on the value of special teams, I present the best outtakes from Talley here. Check back later on the Press Coverage blog for a more detailed version of what Steve Tasker thought of assistant coach Chuck Dickerson's outspokenness before Super Bowl XXVI.

Talley on watching the Bills every week:

"I won't say who they are, but a couple of my teammates will say 'Why do you even watch, man?' Because I helped build something there that I want to see sustained and I want to see move onto the next level. I want to see someone do something that I couldn't do.

"I want to see somebody else pick up the stick and reward these fans. People don't realize what it takes to come out and sit in the stands, when your ass is freezing, and cheer for you. If they don't come, you don't get a check."

Talley on Bills coach Chan Gailey:

"Just looking at Chan Gailey's record and looking at Dick Jauron's record, any similarities? I just wanted to ask. Dick Jauron got fired for some odd reason. Interesting thought, isn't it? That's just food for thought. Kind of strange."

Talley on the Bills' offense:

"From what I can see, the Buffalo Bills' passing game has turned into nothing but a screen game.

"You mean to tell me that Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck come into this league, get a grasp of it and can move the football better than the Bills can with an offensive-minded head coach? Just think about where they're moving the ball to. They probably run more screens than anybody in the league."

Talley on the Bills' defensive line:

"I thought they would be carried by their front, and they have not been. They paid a whole lot of money for two guys to rush the passer. The guys on the inside, they're holding their own. They're doing everything they can do.

"I asked Bruce [Smith] early in the season. I've said, 'Dude, what do you think me and you would be doing right about now if we were in this boat?' He said, 'We'd be fighting.' "

Asked to elaborate, Talley explained he was unsatisfied with how Mario Williams handled his wrist injury:

"I don't think he's lived up to the hype. Don't tell me about being hurt and playing. I hope his wrist doesn't hurt like mine when he's done. But I just don't get it, man. At the end of the day, you're graded on what you do. If you're good enough to put a uniform on and step on the field, then you're fit to play. So you need to play at your level, whatever that may be.

"I had three surgeries in one offseason and one six days before the season started and still made the Pro Bowl. I played every year through injuries and had surgeries after the offseason.

"There ain't no such thing as being injured. You can be hurt; we all hurt. But you're not injured. We all got to play through it, and your performance can't slack off. I really don't think they hold each other accountable because, at the end of the day, they all go home to their nice, cushy house. What about what you're supposed to be doing on Sunday and Thursday and Monday? What do you think about, and it is just a passing thought?"

Talley on Kyle Moore:

"He's played his ass off. I don't think anybody's expected him to play as well as he's played. He's played very, very well. Here's a tweener, a linebacker who's a lot like Cornelius [Bennett] and I were -- between a defensive end and a linebacker. He can rush the passer. He's had, in my opinion, one of the best seasons of anybody on that front."

(Photo: Associated Press)

NFL Sunday Outtakes: Parcells, Kiick, DeHaven, Lindell

By Tim Graham

For my latest NFL Sunday feature story, I tried to examine a broad topic with as much clarity and brevity as possible.

I don't know if I succeeded. Trying to determine the value of special teams -- such a nuanced realm -- made for an unwieldy subject, but it was a fun story to write and proved relevant to the Buffalo Bills' 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

As my editors will tell you, I have a tendency to over-research, over-interview and over-write.

Because of that, a newspaper's finite space is my undefeated natural enemy. I'm rarely able to shoehorn all of my material into a print story.

Then there's the stuff that simply doesn't mesh with whatever I'm writing about. Oftentimes my interviews will stray off topic and down some interesting side streets. Why leave it on the cutting room floor?

From now on, rather than waste interviews and data, I'll post worthwhile leftovers on the Press Coverage blog.

Here are the best unabridged quotes and outtakes from this week's special-teams story.

ParcellsBill Parcells on Tony Romo's fumbled field-goal hold in the 2006 postseason:

"It's a football play, and it shows you that everything in football's important, and everything can be game-affecting. I've been beaten on blocked field goals. I've been beaten on field goals where we blocked it and the other team picked it up and scored.

"That particular play took on a lot of importance because it was a playoff game. Unfortunately for me, it was the last game that I coached. I don't think I'm getting over that one any time soon.

"You were in position to win the game on what should be a pretty routine play, and there was nothing wrong with the snap. There was nothing wrong. We didn't have an error on the part of someone else. It just was mishandled. This game is not without human error.

"How many times are you going to have a passed ball affect the outcome of a baseball game? Over the course of the season, it might be one out of 162. I don't know. But it's a game-affecting play. (Writer's note: I tell Parcells I would compare it to having the winning run picked off third base in the World Series; Parcells laughs.) Whatever the lowest-percentage play that could probably happen to change the game ... That takes on a high degree of importance."

LindellBuffalo Bills kicker Rian Lindell on his comical attempt to make a tackle on Miami Dolphins returner Marcus Thigpen's touchdown in Week 11:

"They look at me, and I don't think they expect much. It's such a mismatch. I just play a different sport than all these guys. I really do. It would be as odd as if somebody threw me a basketball and told me to hit a three-pointer.

"And then, the mismatch ... If I had to tackle myself I'd look silly. Then you put a guy in front of me who's a world-class athlete, it's, like, 'Oh, geez.' I should do better than that. I should at least widen him out and fill in the hole a little more. But at least to my face [Bills teammates] didn't say much to me.

"If you don't practice it enough, it's not going to matter. If I go out there for a tackling drill as a one-off, then I'll maybe get run over or beat up. And it's hard to mimic a game situation. It would be like me taking one of these guys and saying, 'Let's go hit three field  goals every six weeks so you're ready for a game.' That's not going to get you ready for a game."

Miami Dolphins running back Jim Kiick on kicker Garo Yepremian's infamous Super Bowl bungle:

"What makes it worse is Mike Bass is running down the sidelines and Garo's got a clean shot at the guy. All he has to do is bump him, slow him down, and Garo didn't even want to get near him. He didn't even want to try to tackle him. At least try to redeem yourself. That didn't make it any better.

"What a lot of the guys don't care for -- and Garo's a great speaker; I don't want to take that away from him -- is that he made a very nice living off that play by giving motivational talks. If I made a mistake that nearly cost my team the game I probably wouldn't try to make money off of it."

Parcells on free agency and the salary cap changed special-teams units for the worse:

"You had good veteran players on your special teams and had been doing it for five or six years. Now, with the salary cap, kids are there primarily to be special-teams players. It's cheaper to have a first-year player, and when you're talking about a $300,000 or $400,000 difference at eight or 10 players, that amounts to quite a bit of money.

"The ability to develop players, to be efficient, is reduced by the lack of contact in practice. Players get their experience in on-the-job training.

"You had five or six veterans on your team that were your core-four members, and that gave you the nucleus of experience that you need on special teams. Steve Tasker was a game-changing player just by virtue of his ability on special teams. He was dynamic."

DeHavenBills coordinator Bruce DeHaven on the evolution of special-teams coaching over the years:

"Frankly, the first three or four years I was in the league there were some games it was like shooting fish in a barrel. You knew you probably were going to have a pretty good game because you watched them on tape and could tell. There were a handful of special-teams coaches in the league where you knew you had to be at your best.

"Now it's to the point where everybody's coached well. The margin for error is a lot slimmer. You've got to work your tail off just to break even. If you're not prepared, it will beat you.

"There was a time 25 years ago where if you weren't real good on special teams it might not make a difference in the game. If your approach is just to get by, it'll beat you. Everybody in the league is just too good at what they do."

NFL Sunday Outtakes: Joy and misery of the victory formation

By Tim Graham

For nearly a quarter century, the victory formation was an afterthought.

The victory formation is the ultimate dominance play for the offense and a submission moment for the defense. Teams call upon it when they don't need any more plays. Only the dwindling clock separates them from the win.

In Sunday's edition of The Buffalo News, I took an in-depth look at the victory formation in light of the controversy transpired between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants last week.

I looked at where the victory formation came from, its psychological importance, whether teams practice it, how they decide who to use in it and what the etiquette is supposed to be.

The Giants lined up in a victory formation with the game in hand. Buccaneers rookie head coach Greg Schiano ordered his players to aggressively scramble for the ball and knocked the pile back into quarterback Eli Manning.

"I don't really think there's a place for that in the NFL," Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said.

Many others I interviewed agreed with Fitzpatrick. I spoke with Herm Edwards, who made the Miracle at the Meadowlands fumble recovery that made the victory formation an NFL staple, former head coach and Bills linebacker Marty Schottenheimer and several Bills.

"You know they're killing the ball," Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "You just have to eat it."

For the record, the Bills haven't run the victory formation much in recent years.

Under head coach Chan Gailey, the Bills have called it only four times -- three last year (against the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos) and once in 2010 (against the Detroit Lions in Week 10).

Fitzpatrick has run the victory formation six times as a Bills quarterback. In addition to the above, he executed the genuflect offense in 2009 against the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins. Backup quarterback Brian Brohm entered at the two-minute warning and kneeled out the 2009 season against the Indianapolis Colts.

"We always say it's the best play in football," Fitzpatrick said, "because you know if you're in that formation you did something right to win."


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 |

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 |

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 |