Bills Look To Rebound In Home Opener

The Bills had high hopes for the 2012 but many of those hopes came crashing down when they were routed on opening day by the Jets 48-28.  However as Bills fans know from experience, one game does not a season make.  After all this is the team that won their opener on the road against the Chiefs last year 41-7 on their way to a 5-2 start before the season came crashing down and they finished at 6-10.  Maybe they are trying reverse psychology this season?  Either way Bills fans are on edge after the big loss to the Jets and winning their home opener will go a long way in calming the fears of the masses, particularly with what could be the easiest road game on the schedule, at Cleveland, in Week 3.  Here are some things to look for in Week 2 for the Bills:

  • Mario Williams needs to produce for the Bills today

    Will the Bills d-line be able to put pressure on Matt Cassel?  The Bills had no pass rush to speak of in week 1 due to a strong performance by Mark Sanchez who made good, quick decisions.  The Bills CBs are talented but raw and will need to lean on the veteran defensive line to create pressure.  They didn’t do it last week and they absolutely must this week.  Mario Williams needs to show up or he’ll have a lot of people questioning the big investment made in him after only two games.

  • Which Ryan Fitzpatrick will show up for the Bills?  The bad Ryan Fitzpatrick showed up for the Bills last week, they need the good one this time around.  Fitzpatrick had a huge day in the season opener against the Chiefs last year, throwing for 208 yards and 4 TDs.  It will be a tough task without his top slot receiver David Nelson who was lost for the season in Week 1 after he tore his ACL.  The Chiefs do have a banged-up secondary (more on that in a second) so Fitzpatrick will have a chance to take advantage.
  • Will the Chiefs try to injure Stevie Johnson?  Last year Eric Berry was lost for the season after Stevie Johnson blocked him low in the Bills/Chiefs match-up last year on opening weekend.  Not only did Berry criticize Johnson for what he considered a cheap hit in the immediate aftermath but he also opined that their may have been a bounty on him after the Bounty Gate story broke out.  To me it sounds like a cock-eyed conspiracy theory and simple sour grapes from Berry but that hasn’t stopped him from obsessing over it.  The funny thing is that last week Fred Jackson was hit by Jets safety Laron Landry in a manner not all that dissimilar from the way Johnson hit Berry but when asked on Twitter if it was a dirty hit Jackson said it wasn’t and plays like that happen in football all the time.  I guess that’s what separates a guy like Freddie Jackson from a guy like Eric Berry.
  • Will T.J. Graham be ready to step up in for David Nelson?  Rookie receiver T.J. Graham was a surprise healthy scratch last week.  Coach Chan Gailey said that Graham was still picking up the offense.  I hope Graham really picked it up in the last 6 days because the injuries to Nelson and Jackson will force Graham to play early and often on Sunday.  He will likely play on the outside with starting receiver Donald Jones moved into the inside on 3-man sets.  If you hadn’t noticed by now, Gailey is rather fond of 3 and 4 receiver sets.  Hopefully Graham is ready to go because they will need him this week.  The Bills don’t figure to add another veteran receiver until at least Jackson returns to the lineup.
  • Marcell Dareus will be plating with a heavy heart today after the loss of his brother

    How will Marcell Dareus play after dealing with his personal tragedy?  While the national sports scene has been fixated on the Bills poor opening week performance the mood in Buffalo has been different.  The mood quickly changed in Orchard Park last week when Marcell Dareus learned that his brother was shot to death in Alabama on Sunday night.  Dareus comes into the home opener with a heavy heart.  The kid has been a leader in the Bills locker room since his first game as a pro last season.  It would be tough to lose a sibling under any circumstance but I can’t imagine going out and playing a game just 6 days afterwards.

Between the expectations coming into the season, the performance last week, the home crowd this week, and the team rallying around one of their leaders it will make for high emotion at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.  All eyes will be on the defense on Sunday as fans are ready to see the team’s investment both through the draft and free agency start to pay off.  Ryan Fitzpatrick will be under the microscope as well.  If he has another poor performance then fans and pundits will start talking about whether or not Tarvaris Jackson is a better starting option and I can tell you that neither Fitz nor the Bills mafia wants to have that conversation.  With the pressure on this is a must-win for the Bills.  Usually games in week 2 of the season aren’t must win but if the Bills don’t start winning now you have to question if they ever will, at least for this season.

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NFL Week 1 Review – Bills at Jets

After an off-season of hope this one was a bitter pill for Bills fans to swallow.  The Bills were coming in with a wave of momentum and the Jets looked to be a mess on and off the field.  he Jets came to play and they shocked the Bills early, going up by 21 points in the 1st quarter en route to a 48-28 opening day win.  To many in Buffalo the bubble seems to have burst already.  Maybe they aren’t who we thought they were but the truth is that they have a heel of a lot of time to make up for it.  Here are some individual thoughts on the game:

  • Spiller ran past the Jets defense on the way to 169 yards on Sunday

    Regarding CJ Spiller, the lone bright spot for the Bills.  It looks as if CJ has finally figured out the tempo of the pro game.  If he continues to progress and improve as he has he could truly be an elite offensive weapon.  Earlier in his career Spiller was doing too much dancing and spending too much time finding the hole.  Spiller is shifty and quick.  Once he finds a hole he has to attack it.  That’s exactly what he’s started to do.  Between last week’s performance in relief of Fred Jackson and the last 5 games he started last year for the injured Jackson he is averaging just a hair under 7 yards a carry.  That’s a huge number for an NFL running back.  Spiller stills ahs some growing up to do but the Bills can win without Fred Jackson if they have to, provided other things go right.  Spiller will not be the problem.

  • Where is the new and improved defense?  Dave Wannstedt was hired to fix the Bills defense.  Clearly the Jets had an effective offensive game plan.  Use quick drops before the 4-man front can get to you and take advantage on the Bills young CBs who were playing 5-6 yards off of the receivers.  So where were the adjustments.  Despite Sanchez getting rid off the ball too quickly for the 4-man front to get to him the Bills brought extra guys only 4 times the entire game.  Stephon Gilmore has a reputation for being a physical corner yet he was giving the Jets receivers a cushion.  When you hire a coach with Super Bowl winning experience you except Super Bowl caliber coaching.  Wannstedt needs to bounce back this week against the Chiefs.
  • Sanchez excelled throwing the ball on Sunday

    Give credit where it’s due.  Mark Sanchez was ridiculed since the day the Jets acquired Tim Tebow.  He had a lot to prove.  The entire team did but Sanchez in particular.  And he put his money where his mouth is.  He shook off a very bad INT on the opening drive and played a great game.  He spread the ball around and threw the ball confidently.  For weeks we heard about a QB controversy leading up to week 1.  Entering week 2 there is no quarterback controversy.  This is Mark Sanchez’s team (for now).  The Jets locker room has become a happy place (for now).

  • Fitzpatrick was Jekyll on Sunday.  He still has the potential to be Hyde.  There is no way to mince words.  Ryan Fitzpatrick single-handedly put the Bills in a deep, early hole in the 1st quarter with two bad passes.  Then, while they still had a chance to come back in the 2nd half, Fitzpatrick gave up a pick-6 on the 1st drive.  He’s had bad days like this in the past.  Sometimes he’s bounced back, sometimes he hasn’t.  Losing David Nelson is a big blow but Donald Jones seems ready to step up and rookie T.J. Graham will get some important time early.  I said this last year but the Bills should really work tight end Scott Chandler more into the offensive game plan.  He’s a tremendous mismatch for most linebackers and safeties with his 6-7 frame.  And he catches pretty much everything.
  • The Bills offensive line is a good unit.  I know what that says about Fitzpatrick’s day but the truth is that Fitzpatrick’s mistakes weren’t because he had people in his face all game.  They opened up huge holes for C.J. Spiller.  The middle of the line is stout with center Eric Wood and guard Andy Levitre.  Rookie Cordy Glenn held his own at left tackle.
  • Football isn’t everything.  Marcell Dareus had a bad day on Saturday in the Meadowlands but it pales in comparison to what him and his family are dealing with now.  On Sunday Marcell’s brother Simeon Gilmore was shot and killed in his native Alabama.  Gilmore was 20.  Obviously football seems very small in light of the tragedy and while Marcell is a big part of the Bills team I hope that he takes all the time that he needs to deal with this tragedy.  Condolences to the family of Simeon Gilmore.

The Bills open the home docket of their schedule this Sunday in Buffalo against the Chiefs.

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It’s Go Time

There probably isn’t a better weekend in America year in and year out the NFL’s opening Sunday.  Every team goes into that first week tied for 1st place.  Then teams spend the next 16 weeks trying to make the playoffs for a shot at the Lombardi trophy.  What makes the NFL so unique and exciting is that every game is an event.  There is a week of build up to the game and then the game itself.  It’s the only sport like this and that’s what makes it so popular.

Ready for liftoff…

If you are a Buffalo Bills fan, which I have been since I was 7 years old, today is a more exciting opening day than we’ve had for the better part of a decade.  It’s not just about the prospect of having a better team.  It’s not just that the Bills went out and spent big money on Mario Williams.  My fellow Red Sox fans can now relate to having to root for that unlikable team.  Well Bills fans have been doing that for over a decade.  Even their last playoff team was marred by a quarterback controversy between two unlikable guys.  The previous opening day starters before the current one, J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards were, for the lack of a better term, a couple of stiffs.  Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Harvard educated man who looks like a lumberjack, is an easy guy to root for.  Picked in the 7th round of the 2005 draft he played for 2 teams before settling in Buffalo as the starter.

Starting receiver Stevie Johnson was a 7th round pick.  The other two starting receivers, David Nelson and Donald Jones, went undrafted.  Running back Fred Jackson was undrafted out of Division III Coe College.  His other stops before finally making it to the NFL included the Arena League and NFL Europe.  These are the type of guys that you love to root for as a sports fan.  Even the high draft picks like Marcell Dareus, Eric Wood,  C.J. Spiller, and Aaron Williams are likable players.  Good ‘ole southern boy Chan Gailey is a likable coach.  This team is different from the team in years passed.  Maybe it’s because the team has finally invested in keeping it’s own players.  Maybe they just finally “get it” up in Western New York.

Of course the games still need to be played but something can be said for hope.  In years passed Bills fans were excited by opening day but it was more blind faith that drove them.  Now there is finally substance to the hope in early September.

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Buffalo Bills Pre-Season Game 1 – 5 Things To Watch

The Bills kick off their preseason slate of games tonight when they host Robert Griffith III and the Washington Redskins.  It’s been a long off-season for Bills fans who were given hope in the wake of their late season collapse with the high profile free agent signing of star defensive end Mario Williams as well as a push to retain their own key players, a philosophy that had been lost on the organization in the decade prior.  The Bills will begin their push to return to the playoffs in earnest tonight with their first tune-up.  The starters will likely be on the field for roughly 12 plays before giving way to the backups who will be fighting for a roster spot.  Here are 5 things to watch in tonight’s game:

Rookie 2nd rounder Glenn will start at left tackle tonight

1. Who will be the left tackle?  This one will be interesting to watch tonight.  Both candidates for starting left tackle, rookie 2nd round pick Cordy Glenn and second year player Chris Hairston, will be in the starting lineup as incumbent starting right tackle Erik Pears is out with an injury.  In a perfect world the Bills will have Glenn as their starting left tackle and Hairston the starting right tackle in the long term but they still have the veteran Pears on the roster and both of the younger guys need to gain experience.  Glenn seems to have the edge so far at left tackle and he will get the chance to prove it with the start tonight.  Hairston played well in spurts last year but he did suffer several injuries.  Both guys will be going up against starting defensive ends at the beginning of the game which will help in evaluation.  Expect to see both guys at left tackle at certain points tonight with both the 1st and 2nd units.

2. Who will step up at wide receiver?  The Bills have two spots locked up at receiver – they have a bonafide #1 receiver in Stevie Johnson who just signed a 5-year extension in the off-season and a mainstay at slot receiver in David Nelson who has caught 92 balls over his first two seasons in the league.  Donald Jones is the #2 right now, as he was at the beginning of last season.  Jones is dependable enough when he’s healthy but he’s missed 9 games to injury over his first two seasons.  Of note to watch are two young receivers who will be jockeying for playing time – 3rd round pick T.J. Graham, a burner who can get behind a defense quickly, and 3rd year man Marcus Easley, who has yet to play a down in the NFL.  After losing his rookie season to a knee injury Easley had a good camp last year before hitting injured reserve right before the start of the season with a heart ailment.  Easley is purportedly back to 100% and is a big target with plus speed so any contribution from him will be an added bonus.  Veteran Derek Hagan, who showed good chemistry with Ryan Fitzpatrick late last season, also figures to be in the mix.  Nelson won’t play after tweaking his knee in camp last week so it should give some of the otehr guys some time with Fitz tonight.

Young has struggled in his attempt to become Fitz’s backup and may be playing for his job already in game 1

3. Will Vince Young make it to preseason week 2?  There has been rumblings out of training camp that the Bills coaching staff is already prepared to cut ties with quarterback Vince Young who has been slow to catch on to the Bills offense.  That says a lot about Young when you consider that the Bills thought so much about Young’s competition for back-up QB, Tyler Thigpen, that they let Ryan Fitzpatrick play the last 9 games of last season with cracked ribs rather than inserting Thigpen into the lineup.  It seems like a make-or-break game tonight for Young who will get to prove himself in game action before the Bills make any decision on him.  If I were Thigpen I wouldn’t rest in my laurels without Young as there is plenty of time to get someone else into practice and throw them into the competition if Young bows out this early.  Despite the reports of Young’s demise GM Buddy Nix told NFL.com’s Steve Wyche this morning that he expects the battle to go down to Week 4 of the preseason so we’ll see how it goes.

4. How will the defensive line’s second unit shape up?  We know about Mario-Kyle-Dareus-Anderson but what about the guys coming up behind them?  Chris Kelsay is an everyman who is as solid as any 3rd DE in the league.  Shawne Merriman can be a huge asset if he is healthy but he hasn’t been healthy in 4 years.  The keys to the 2nd unit are the two 3rd year men – Alex Carrington and Torell Troup.  Carrington has shown flashes in his first two years and if he continues to develop he can be molded into a Chris Canty-type player on this stacked defensive line.  Troup on the other hand has shown very little in his first two seasons  A lot of it is due to injury but again you’ve got to stay healthy to produce.  Troup played in the 4-3 in college and he said in the off-season that he would be more comfortable as an attacking d-tackle in Dave Wannstedt’s new 4-3.  Now is the time for him to show it.

2nd year man Williams has a leg up on the competition for 2nd CB spot

5. How will the cornerback unit shape up?  So far in training camp Stephon Gilmore has lived up to the hype and appears to be a lock for one of the starters jobs.  2nd year man Aaron Williams has been playing the #2 spot to mixed results, one day Gailey and Wannstedt will criticize his play and the next they will praise him.  He definitely played well as a rookie.  Leodis McKelvin has been working in the slot and that might be the best spot for him.  He struggles mightily against bigger receivers and gets beat along the sidelines often so the middle of the field might be the best place for him.  Terrence McGee is coming back from injury and looking to make one last run with the Bills in his 9th season with the team.  He will be pushed by youngsters Justin Rogers, who was a revelation as a 7th round pick last season, and Ron Brooks, who played behind two All-Americans at LSU.

That’s the 5 biggest things to look for in this game tonight.  There are of course larger issues such as how Wannstedt’s new 4-3 defense acclimates but that is something better reviewed over the long haul of the full preseason schedule rather than after 1 game.  The 1st game will really be about young guys jockeying for position and fringe roster players fighting to live another week.  It will be interesting to see how conservative RG3 is in his first NFL preseason game, particularly against the Bills’ revamped and revved-up defensive front.  One thing is for sure – it’s great to see some NFL action again after a long off-season.  Enjoy the game.

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My AFC East First Half All-Pro Offense

A lot of people like to do a list of their mid-season all-stars to feel self important and I am no exception.  This is my All-AFC East Team – 11 starters on offense, 11 starters in a 3-4 defense, and 4 special teamers.  Today will be the offense and kicker and tomorrow I will unveil the defense and punter.  Here is the AFC East First Half All-Pro Offense (1st team write up, second team in parenthesis)

Quarterbacks

  • 1st team – Tom Brady, New England Patriots (212 of 321, 2,703 yards, 20 TDs, 10 INTs, 66.0 comp. %, 100.0% QBR) – It’s been another banner year for Pats QB Tom Brady.  He hasn’t been efficient as he has in years past, including last year when he had an unreal 36/4 TD/INT ratio.  But his stats for the first half of the year are as gaudy as anyone’s in the league and he’s leading a Patriots offense that is one of the best passing attacks in the league.  He’ll be in the MVP conversation at the end of the year again
  • 2nd team – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills (170 of 260, 1,930 yards, 15 TDs, 9 INTS, 65.4 comp. %, 92.3% QBR) – Fitzpatrick has emerged as the Bills’ long term answer at QB, a stature made official with a contract extension signed two weeks ago.  Fitzpatrick is once again on pace to put up numbers that only rival that of Jim Kelly and Drew Bledsoe in the past twenty years for this Bills franchise.

Running Backs

  • 1st team – Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills (150 car. for 803 yards, 5.4 avg., 6 TDs, 1,194 total yards) – Jackson is far and away the best halfback in the AFC East.  He’s already got 1,194 total yards halfway through the season, which is on pace to eclipse O.J. Simpson’s single season Bills record.  He’s also on pace to crush his previous career high for rushing yards in a season.  He is the workhorse behind a potent Bills offense and like Brady will be a candidate for NFL MVP at the end of the year.
  • 2nd team – BenJarvus Green-Ellis (108 car. for 452 yards, 4.2 avg., 5 TDs, 501 total yards) – Green-Ellis narrowly beats out Reggie Bush because he’s been more in touches (and scores) and Shonn Greene because he is more consistent in average per carry.  Green-Ellis is the workhorse in a Patriots offense that uses many different pieces.

Fullbacks

  • 1st team – John Conner, New York Jets (7 car. for 26 yards, 3.7 avg., 1 TD, 35 total yards) – Conner is emerging as a top fullback in the league this year.  He’s been by far the most versatile fullback in the division this season, contributing in the rushing, passing, and blocking games.
  • 2nd team – Corey McIntyre, Buffalo Bills (No stats) – McIntyre hasn’t been utilized as a ball-handler in the Bills offense this year but he is a physical load.  He is a grinder who opens up huge holes for Fred Jackson in the short yardage and goal line situations and Brad Smith in the wildcat formation.

Wide Receivers

  • 1st team – Wes Welker, New England Patriots (66 cat. for 960 yards, 6 TDs, 42 1Ds) – Welker has been off the wall this season and is on pace for his best season to date.  He is one of Tom Brady’s security blankets and is virtually impossible to cover with Brady throwing him the ball.  Oh, and he’s a free agent at year’s end so don’t look for him to slow down any time soon.
  • 1st team – Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins (46 cat. for 644 yards, 2 TDs, 31 1Ds) – Marshall edges out Stevie Johnson for the second WR starting spot on my team.  He’s made headlines for what he’s said off the field so for this year but what he has done on the field has been nothing to sneeze at.
  • 2nd team – Stevie Johnson, Buffalo Bills (42 cat. for 523 yards, 4 TDs, 28 1Ds) – Johnson was edged out by Marshall for first team honors but makes a fine first receiver off the bench.  Johnson is one of the best route runners in the league.
  • 2nd team – David Nelson, Buffalo Bills (35 cat. for 402 yards, 3 TDs, 19 1Ds) – Nelson beats out Deion Branch for the last WR spot on the team with a bit more consistency.  Nelson has seen fewer targets but has more receptions.  Nelson’s hands are as sure as anyone’s in the league and as such a big target he gets to balls that other receivers can’t.

Tight Ends

  • 1st team – Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (44 cat. for 596 yards, 6 TDs, 34 1Ds) – Gronkowski is a beast in the passing game, plain and simple.  He is versatile, he can block and catch, but he is most dangerous in the middle of the field where his big body and athleticism make him incredibly difficult to defend.
  • 2nd team – Dustin Keller, New York Jets (29 cat. for 436 yards, 2 TDs, 21 1Ds) – THE AFC East tight end pool is deep with Aaron Hernandez and Scott Chandler also getting consideration but Keller is just two big a part of the Jets offense to overlook.  He is their best receiver through the first half of the season.

Tackles

  • 1st team – Jake Long, Miami Dolphins – Long’s Dolphins might only have one win but Long is still among the best left tackles in the game in 2011.  Reggie Bush’s 4.9 yards per carry would help speak to that.
  • 1st team – Wayne Hunter, New York Jets – Hunter is probably not the best tackle on his team (see below) but he is the best right tackle in the division with Sebatian Vollmer splitting early time with rookie Nate Solder.
  • 2nd team – D’Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets – Ferguson is definitely not a high first round disappointment for the Jets, playing again at a extremely high level while guarding Mark Sanchez’s blind side.
  • 2nd team – Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots – Vollmer has been plagued by health problems and has dealt with the emergence of fellow right tackle Nate Solder but is consistent as ever when he’s in there.

Guards

  • 1st team – Andy Levitre, Buffalo Bills – Levitre has been a monster this season for the Bills.  He’s done all that’s been asked of him, including kicking out to left tackle the past two games for the Bills’ injured tackles.  Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked just twice in those two games.
  • 1st team – Brian Waters, New England Patriots – Waters was a great veteran pickup by the Patriots just before the start of the regular season.  Waters has stabilized a line that was inconsistent at time for the Pats last season.
  • 2nd team – Logan Mankins, New England Patriots – Mankins is having another great season, just not one as good as Andy Levitre’s up in Buffalo.  Mankins is the anchor for the Pats offensive line.
  • 2nd team – Vernon Carey, Miami Dolphins – Carey has not skipped a beat moving inside from right tackle to right guard this year, playing at his usually high level and being a beast in the run game.

Centers

  • 1st team – Nick Mangold, New York Jets – Mangold missed a few games earlier this year due to a high ankle sprain but he is by far the best center in the NFL when healthy.  He is dominant virtually any time out there.  He was sorely missed during his injury, a huge blow to the Jets offense
  • 2nd team – Eric Wood, Buffalo Bills – Wood is playing at a Pro Bowl level in his first season back at his college position.  He would probably  a 1st teamer if he was in any other division, or Mangold wasn’t in his.  He might be the best pull center in the league.

Kickers

  • 1st team – Nick Folk, New York Jets (12-13 FGs, 23-23 XPs, 50 long) – Folk has been the most consistent kicker in the division, only missing once and being 2 out of 3 from over 50 yards out.
  • 2nd team – Rian Lindell, Buffalo Bills (13-15 FGs, 25-25 XPs, 49 long) – Lindell has had his usual consistent season with 13 makes, including a game winner against the Patriots.  Unfortunately he will miss the next 4-6 games for the Bills with a shoulder injury.

Defense tomorrow

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It’s homecoming weekend for three Bills

The Bills and Cowboys have had a pretty good rivalry since they faced each other in back-to-back Super Bowls back in 1992 and 1993.  The last time they played each other, on a Monday night in Buffalo, the two teams delivered one of the best games of the year.  The two teams will look to duplicate that this Sunday in Dallas and the Bills will no doubt be looking for a little revenge following that heart-breaking Monday Night loss 4 years ago.  For three Bills players, however, it is more than just a rivalry game.  Running Back Fred Jackson, Wide Receiver David Nelson, and Cornerback Aaron Williams are all coming home.

Aaron Williams was born in San Jose, California but grew up in Round Rock, Texas.  He attended McNeil High School in Austin, Texas where he was a Parade All-American.  He also made second team All-USA team by USA Today.  He also played in the 2008 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.  Williams was the only Texas native on the Bills roster to stay at home and play college ball, attending the University of Texas under Mack Brown.  He started 23 games at UT and was a second team All-Big 12 in 2010.  Williams was drafted by the Bills in the 2nd round in the 2011 NFL draft.  This week’s game will be extra sweet for Williams if he is able to go, as it will be the first action he would see since the scary injury that he suffered in Week 3 against the Patriots when he was carted off the field.

David Nelson was born and raised in Wichita Falls, Texas.  He played at 1A Petrolia High School before he moved to S.H. Rider High School in Wichita Falls.  Nelson was named Class 4A first team all state for his senior season in which he caught 91 balls for 1,641 yards and 18 touchdowns.  He also played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.  Nelson was captain and letterwinner for the Rider Raiders, a fact that won’t surprise Bills fans who have gotten to know David during the past two years.  Nelson headed to the University of Florida to play with one of the best college players of all time, Tim Tebow.  Nelson went undrafted in the 2010 NFL draft but was quickly scooped up by Buffalo, where he has caught 66 balls for 755 yards and 6 TDs in only a season and a half.  It will be a very satisfying homecoming for Nelson, who has earned his stardom the hard way.

Perhaps the most satisfying homecoming story however belongs to Fort Worth native Fred Jackson (sorry, couldn’t find a high school picture of him.)  Jackson attended Lamar High School in Arlington.  He traveled to little Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  His amazing career path has gone from Lamar to Coe to the Sioux City Bandits of the National Indoor Football League to the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe to the Buffalo Bills practice squad to finally, starting Running Back of the Buffalo Bills.  He made the Bills’ roster during the 2006 season and since then has amassed 3,663 yards on the ground to go along with 1,484 yards through the air and 20 touchdowns.  In 2011, at age 30, Fred Jackson is a candidate for NFL MVP and on pace to match or surpass the best all-around performance by a Bills franchise that has had versatile Hall-of-Famers O.J. Simpson and Thurman Thomas in its backfield.  It will be an extra special homecoming for Jackson who has certainly not taken the easy road from Lamar High School in Arlington to face of the franchise for the Buffalo Bills.

Good luck to those Texas boys on the Buffalo Bills and the rest of the squad in a big game this weekend in Dallas.

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For Nelson and Hernandez life after Tebow is going just fine

Aaron Hernandez and David Nelson both attended the University of Florida while a legend was at the helm.  Tim Tebow is perhaps the most celebrated athlete in college football history.  He was the Florida Gators quarterback for the four years he was there.  His numbers were astounding.  He scored 88 Touchdowns through the air and tallied 57 on the ground.  He amassed an unreal 12,232 yards of total offense in four years at Florida.  Leading up to the 2010 NFL draft Tim Tebow was a hot topic among NFL scouts and general managers.  Many thought that he wasn’t equipped with the skill set to succeed as an NFL starting quarterback.  Many thought “who cares, he just wins.”  Eventually Tim Tebow became the 25th overall pick of the draft by the Denver Broncos.  As far as his former favorite targets go, however, things didn’t go as well on draft day.  Supremely athletic tight end  Aaron Hernandez had to deal with some off-the-field issues and slipped into the 4th round, where he was plucked by the New England Patriots.  Reliable but rail-thin wide receiver David Nelson didn’t even get the call until after the draft and he decided to sign with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent.  So while the world watched for what Tebow would do at the next level two of his favorite targets were heading up to the AFC East.  Hernandez was a prime target at UF, catching 111 balls in three seasons for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns.  He was raw with a ton of potential when he arrived at Pats camp but was thought of as a 4th or 5th option for Tom Brady behind the likes of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and 2nd round counterpart Rob Gronkowski.  Hernandez responded with a 45 catch, 563 yard season, 6 touchdown season.  Hernandez is off to an even faster start this season, already catching 14 balls for 165 yards and two touchdowns.  If Hernandez’s quick, meteoric rise was unexpected than David Nelson’s has been nothing short of shocking.  Virtually a part-time player with the Gators, Nelson caught 46 balls for 630 yards and 7 touchdowns in four years at Florida, Nelson has shown draft position matters little.  Nelson had the decked stacked against him for even making the opening day roster as an undrafted free agent but not only did he make the team but he thrived as his playing time increased.  By the end of his rookie year he had 31 catches for 153 yards and 3 touchdowns.  2011 doesn’t look to be a sophomore slump for Nelson as he has picked up right where he left off with 14 catches, 149 yards and a touchdown.  What’s amazing is after 18 games in the NFL, Nelson needs only 1 catch, 128 yards, and 3 touchdowns to match his totals from 4 years at the University of Florida.  And don’t expect these two to slow down anytime soon.  Hernandez gets better by the week and he has Tom Brady, one of the best of all-time, throwing him the rock.  Nelson has gotten more confident as the weeks have gone on and has quickly moved up the depth chart in Buffalo.  He is quickly becoming one of the primary targets of the emerging Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Through the first two games these are the two top scoring teams in the AFC and Hernandez and Nelson have both been key components for their respective squads.  Unfortunately Aaron Hernandez will likely miss this weekend’s showdown of the former Gators with an injured MCL but rest assured, there will be many more battles as these guys continue to tear it up in the AFC East for years to come.  Apparently life after Tebow, at least for these two, is not so bad after all.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

Quick Thoughts on Raiders/Bills

It was not pretty but at the end of the day the Bills got the job done.  How many Bills fans were sitting on their couches during the 2nd quarter thinking to themselves “Same Old Bills”.  Well, the Bills did manage to turn a lot of heads this week and put on one of the more entertaining games of the week in the process.  Where they go from here remains to be seen but it does feel like the worm is starting to turn in Buffalo.  Quick thoughts:

  • Ryan Fitzpatrick was off early and was hurt by a few penalties but boy did he catch fire later on.  I haven’t seen a Buffalo Bills QB play so confidently since Doug Flutie.
  • The biggest surprise of the Bills season so far has been the offensive line.  Andy Levitre in particular is playing at an extremely high level.  I’m talking near Pro Bowl caliber play in the first two weeks.
  • Nice coming out party for David Nelson.  I’ll have more on him later this week but something tells me that this kid is here to stay.
  • C.J. Spiller – you can see the corner, you know the way around it, you just need to get there.  Looks like you are at least heading in the right direction.
  • Stevie Johnson has to be among the best route runners in the NFL currently.  It is very hard to cover him one on one.
  • Leodis McKelvin followed his great day in Week 1 with a very poor showing against the Raiders on Sunday.  He was not helped by the play of George Wilson, who looked out of position more often than not.  Definitely a step back for this unit this week.
  • Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams were outstanding.  Chris Kelsay had a strong game too…Nick Barnett is all over the place.  I still think this defense is yet to gel, which means it will only get better as it becomes a more cohesive unit.
  • Glad that you got on the stat sheet Da’Norris.  Knock it down next time.
  • Not sure what there is left to say about Freddie Jackson.  The guy is as consistent as they come.  At 30 years old, he may even be getting better, not to mention he does some of his best work in the winter.  He’s already the #1 rusher in the NFL after two weeks…I see a career year when it is all said and done.
  • That Denarius Moore looks like a player.
  • That had to have been one of the most entertaining halves of Buffalo Bills football since…the Dallas Monday night game maybe?  There have been some fun games but they were always after the Bills were out of it, which loses some of the luster in the excitement.
  • The party out there looks fun Shawne Merriman…maybe it’s time to join?  Next week against #12 would be great, thanks.
  • I guess what Chris Berman says is true, nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills.

Well that was a good appetizer, now for the main course…if the Buffalo Bills are for real they will compete with the New England Patriots at home.  Notice I didn’t say win, I think a close game give them enough confidence to catapult themselves to some success for the rest of the year.  And if they do win?  Well, let’s just say they won’t be your father’s Buffalo Bills anymore.

Twitter @ ErikVenskus