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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.

Does Tony Moeaki signing put Scott Chandler on notice?

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills don't have any injuries at tight end.

But, on the sudden, they decided they needed to bring another one aboard.

The club's decision today to cut running back Tashard Choice and sign tight end Tony Moeaki doesn't sound promising for Scott Chandler's future.

Chandler lost a costly overtime fumble in Sunday's 34-31 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. As Buffalo News reporter Jay Skurski wrote in Tuesday's paper, the Bills have a difficult decision to make when Chandler's contract expires after this year.

Moeaki said the Bills reached out and signed him within 24 hours.

"This all happened pretty quickly," Moeaki said this afternoon at One Bills Drive. "I'm just trying to catch my breath here and get started."

Moeaki, 26, said "every day I will look at as a tryout, just trying to prove myself."

The acquisition is reminiscent of the Bills claiming injury-prone pass-rusher Shawne Merriman off waivers from the San Diego Chargers in November 2010. It's a low-risk tryout for the final few weeks of the season.

Injuries have limited to Moeaki to 15 games over the past three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.

A preseason knee blowout ended his 2011 campaign. He suffered a broken shoulder in preseason this year, and the Chiefs released him from injured reserve in October.

While playing at Iowa, he dealt with a broken hand, dislocated elbow, wrist surgery and multiple foot surgeries.

"Injuries happen, and they happen at bad times," Moeaki said. "I'm not worried about them. They have a great training staff and strength and conditioning staff here. I'm just going to work with them and get ready to go."

Moeaki declined to discuss how many tryouts he had or with which teams, but he said he underwent "a couple physicals" before landing work.

Tony Moeaki a productive TE when healthy, which isn't often

By Tim Graham

Three days after tight end Scott Chandler fumbled in overtime, the Buffalo Bills have signed Tony Moeaki.

Moeaki, the Kansas City Chiefs' third-round draft choice in 2010, is a productive tight end when healthy. But he seems to be hurt more than he's active.

Moeaki broke his shoulder in the preseason. The Chiefs released him from injured reserve in October and has been a free agent. The Bills had an opening after they cut running back Tashard Choice.

Moeaki battled a slew of injuries at the University of Iowa (broken hand, dislocated elbow, wrist surgery, foot surgeries). But he caught 47 passes for 556 yards and three touchdowns as a Chiefs rookie.

He missed the 2011 season with a torn left knee ligament that preseason. He returned last year to post 33 receptions for 453 yards and a touchdown.

Bills release RB Tashard Choice

By Mark Gaughan

The Buffalo Bills announced running back Tashard Choice has been released.

A sixth-year NFL veteran, Choice joined Buffalo midway through the 2011 season and has served as the No. 3 running back since.

He had 35 carries this season for 126 yards. Throughout his time with the Bills, he had 105 carries for 389 yards in 29 games.

Choice played six snaps on offense over the past three games. Overall this year, he averaged 8.5 offensive plays a game, or 11 percent of the snaps.

Ronnie Wingo is the other halfback on the BIlls' roster, after C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.

Doug Marrone urges C.J. Spiller to hold O-line accountable

By Tim Graham

Maybe it's time for C.J. Spiller to stop being such a nice guy.

Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone suggested after today's game that Spiller should get into his offensive linemen's grills about blocking better.

Spiller had another miserable game even though his Bills waylaid the New York Jets, 37-14, in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"I know it was terrible today," Spiller said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know I didn't have a good day rushing the ball. I probably was in negative yards."

Not quite, but almost.

Spiller ran 13 times for 6 yards. His longest gain was 3 yards. He was tackled for no gain or negative yards five times.

One play was particularly aggravating. Against a loaded box about five minutes before halftime, the Bills ran anyway. Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson shot through the Bills' line and tackled Spiller for a 4-yard loss.

You could almost see the steam shooting from the ear holes in Spiller's helmet as he walked to the sideline.

Marrone made it a point to speak with Spiller. Marrone was upset with the offensive line, noting they were falling down and whiffing on some run blocks.

"If you're a running back and you're getting the ball, that's something you don't expect," Marrone said. "You can live with the other stuff.

"I told him afterward, 'You know what? I'd be pissed, too. But the difference between me and you -- and this is what you have to do now -- is go over to that group right there, that offensive line, and you tell them. You tell them you're pissed.' "

Spiller had no quarrel with Marrone's advice.

"He's exactly right," Spiller said. "When things aren't going right, it's about holding each other accountable. It's nothing about degrading my teammates or anything like that. It's just letting them know that we have to get going."

Spiller admitted that venting isn't a foreign concept to him. He recently spoke to Thurman Thomas about this very topic, asking the Hall of Fame running back how to confront negative issues without turning into a controversy.

Bills center Eric Wood acknowledged Spiller's frustrations and welcomed his input.

"If he's not comfortable saying something, then maybe him doing that is not the best way," Wood said. "But if he's comfortable saying something, we respect him. We know what he can do when we give him holes. We've got to do a better job for him."

Legendary Bills receiver Andre Reed attended today's game and was in the locker room afterward. Reed laughed when asked whether Thomas had the temerity to confront Pro Bowl linemen such as Jim Ritcher, Kent Hull and Howard Ballard.

"If it ain't going right and you're the main guy, you get up in somebody's face regardless," Reed said. "Get up in the offensive line's face and say something. Thurman didn't give a damn who he was talking to.

"If it's bothering me, I'd get in somebody's face. Hell, I'm out here working, too."

Spiller's backfield mates, Fred Jackson and Tashard Choice, didn't fare much better Sunday. The Bills combined for 68 yards on 38 rushing attempts.

"We have the guys that can get the job done," Spiller said. "There wasn't a whole lot of room out there, but we'll get it corrected. That's the encouraging part."

C.J. Spiller's limited usage not injury related

By Jay Skurski

The Buffalo Bills thought running back C.J. Spilller's high-ankle sprain was healed sufficiently enough to remove him from their injury report last week.

Despite that, Spiller still only saw 33 percent of the offensive snaps in Sunday's 23-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Spiller was on the field for 22 of Buffalo's 67 offensive plays, running eight times for 23 yards and catching three passes for 11 yards.

Fred Jackson, meanwhile, took 44 snaps (66 percent), while third running back Tashard Choice saw just one play.

"Game plan. How we're putting those guys in there," Marrone said today when asked if Spiller's usage was at all still limited by injury. "Doesn't have anything to do with his ankle."

Marrone said Spiller's playing time "could increase, could decrease -- We'll see it week to week."

"As far as the running backs, I think both players are productive in their own way with two different styles, which isn't a problem. At the same sense, you know, did we run the ball like we wanted to the other day? Absoultely not. I don't think you need to be a genius to figure that out," the coach said. "How come? Why not? ... Very simple -- I think it always starts with up front, because I'm an offensive line coach. We could have done a better job up front."

Marrone said there were times during the game that his running backs missed a hole or missed a read, and that the blocking on the perimeter by his tight ends was sometimes not strong enough.

"To be able to run the football, you have to do all those things well," he said. "I think at times when we don't do that, then it's very difficult for us to run the football."

Snap counts: Marquise Goodwin doesn't get much work

By Jay Skurski

The Buffalo Bills went big in an effort to protect quarterback Thad Lewis on Sunday in Miami.

No. 2 tight end Lee Smith played 32 of 67 offensive snaps for the team against the Dolphins, which was 48 percent. Smith, as he usually is, was used almost exclusively in a blocking role, although he did make his second catch of the season, for 18 yards.

Even with the bigger lineup, the Dolphins still managed to get four sacks of Lewis, and hit him six times.

The Bills also used Frank Summers on 11 snaps (16 percent). He got his first two carries of the season, and gained 14 yards.

Most interesting among the snap counts for the Bills' offense was the use of rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin. Coming off his huge 40-yard touchdown catch against the Bengals in Week Six that sent the game to overtime, Goodwin saw only five offensive snaps (7 percent) against Miami. Robert Woods (63 snaps, 94 percent) and Stevie Johnson (60 snaps, 90 percent) played almost the entire game, most often joined by T.J. Graham (34 snaps, 51 percent) when the Bills went three wide.

Running back Fred Jackson (39 snaps, 58 percent) came back from a knee injury in the first quarter to lead the team with 11 carries for 36 yards and a touchdown and four catches for 49. Jackson's leadership, however, doesn't show up in the stats book. C.J. Spiller managed just 14 snaps (21 percent), while third back Tashard Choice played 12 snaps (18 percent).

The starting offensive line -- including left guard Doug Legursky in his first start of the season -- played the entire game (67 snaps).

Rookie tight end Chris Gragg (six snaps, 9 percent) also saw his first action of the season.

Continue reading "Snap counts: Marquise Goodwin doesn't get much work" »

Marvelous third-down production saved Bills from early down misery

By Tim Graham

Mug half-full: Thad Lewis and the Buffalo Bills were phenomenal on third down Sunday.

Mug half-empty: They were raggedy on first and second downs.

The Bills escaped Sun Life Stadium with an improbable 23-21 victory over the Miami Dolphins. The chances the Bills could win based on their first- and second-down production were scrawny.

"We were struggling," Bills coach Doug Marrone said today. "Give Miami credit on first and second down. We weren't putting ourselves in very good situations. It's very difficult."

Continue reading "Marvelous third-down production saved Bills from early down misery" »

Fred Jackson ready for Browns; C.J. Spiller remains uncertain

Fred Jackson - McCoy
Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson said he will be ready to play Thursday night versus the Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

By Mark Gaughan

Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson said he will be ready to play Thursday night versus the Cleveland Browns in a nationally televised game.

"I'm definitely playing," tweeted Jackson, who sprained a knee in Sunday's win over Baltimore.

Coach Doug Marrone concurred: "I'm very comfortable with Fred."

Meanwhile, fellow running back C.J. Spiller took part in the walk-through portion of practice Tuesday and he expects to make a decision about his sprained ankle in warmups before the game Thursday.

"I didn't think I'd be able to run today, but I was able to," Spiller said. "I wasn't full speed but I was at least able to move around. Tomorrow will be a huge day. Thursday I'll get out there and test it out. If I can go, I'll go. If I can't, I can't."

What to look for in tonight's Lions at Bills blockbuster

By Tim Graham

Yes, that headline is sarcasm.

But as far as exhibition finales go, there's some interesting stuff to monitor.

Here are a handful of things I'll be looking for tonight, when the Buffalo Bills wrap up their preseason against the Detroit Lions in Ralph Wilson Stadium:

What in the world is going on at quarterback? We won't get any definitive answers for opening day until presumptive starter EJ Manuel's injury status is known. In the meantime, we have undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel and two guys who weren't Bills five days ago. Matt Leinart wasn't even in the league. Thad Lewis was fourth-string with Detroit. How coach Doug Marrone divvies up the reps will be interesting, especially for Leinart. The former Heisman Trophy winner might be suiting up for his final chance to stay in the NFL.

Cornerbacks in focus. Buffalo's best, Stephon Gilmore, will be out six to eight weeks after surgery to repair a broken wrist. The next-best cornerback was in disconcerting dispute when Gilmore was healthy. So now what? Leodis McKelvin would appear to have one spot cinched up, while Crezdon Butler, Justin Rogers, T.J. Heath and Ron Brooks jockey for the other assignments.

One last look at the wide receivers. It's totally unfair that players such as Brad Smith, Chris Hogan, Marcus Easley and Brandon Kaufman are down to their last audition and will have to track down passes from Leinart and Lewis. The Bills have difficult decisions to make after the top four: Stevie Johnson, T.J. Graham, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin.

Strong undercard battle for the third running-back role. C.J. Spiller is away from the team to mourn with his family after Saturday's tragedy in Lake Butler, Fla. Fred Jackson will be preserved. That leaves beaucoup carries for Tashard Choice, Kendall Gaskins and Zach Brown. Expect the Bills to run as much as they can tonight given their quarterback situation.

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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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