Bills coach Chan Gailey hopes bigger means better

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Chan Gailey had a good first impression once he finally had an opportunity to see his Buffalo Bills players on the field for the first time.

''We look bigger,'' Gailey said as the team opened training camp in suburban Rochester this weekend.

Now the question is whether bigger means better for the Bills, who haven't made the playoffs in 11 seasons.

Gailey thinks so, believing that additional size should help Buffalo compete in the tough AFC East, where the Bills have finished third or worse in eight of the past nine years since the NFL went to four-team divisions in 2002.

''We feel like we've upgraded our football team from the end of last year,'' Gailey said. ''We're bigger, and hopefully that translates into being stronger, more physical and harder to push around.''

The Bills have a recent history of being pushed around. Gailey's entering his second season after a start-from-scratch 4-12 finish last year. It marked the 10th time in 11 years Buffalo finished with a losing record.

The added size is particularly evident on defense, which couldn't stop the run, had difficulty pressuring opposing quarterbacks and gave up an average 26.5 points last year. The unit was so porous, it allowed 200 or more yards rushing eight times - including a combined 549 in two meetings against the New York Jets.

''I don't care who you have on your team, if you don't stop the run, you can't win,'' linebacker Andra Davis said. ''So the No. 1 priority all camp is to stop the run.''

Buffalo started plugging its holes by using the third overall pick in the draft to select lineman Marcell Dareus, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 319 pounds. They also added size to a comparatively small group of cornerbacks by selecting 6-foot, 204-pound Aaron Williams in the second round.

The trend continued Sunday, when the Bills bolstered their linebacking corps by agreeing to a contract with 6-foot-2, 236-pound veteran free agent Nick Barnett.

And don't forget last year's late-season addition of linebacker Shawne Merriman. The hard-hitting player, known as Lights Out, never got to play last year after a nagging Achilles' injury put him on the injured reserve list. But Merriman says he's healthy and preparing to return to his once dominant form.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick noticed a difference after the team's first practice Saturday.

''I tell you what, looking at Merriman on the other side, he looks big,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''There are some big boys over there. I think it's a good thing especially in our division, just how physical it is: Bigger is better.''

The Bills are also planning to bulk up their offensive line.

Gailey is experimenting with the possibility of replacing starting center Geoff Hangartner with guard Eric Wood, who plays with a more physical style. The switch also would allow 6-foot-5, 323-pound backup Craig Urbik to take over in Wood's spot.

Erik Pears, at 6-foot-8 and 305, opened camp starting at right tackle. Pears ended last season at that spot after the Bills signed him in November, after he was cut by Jacksonville.

The changes are being considered to improve an offense that was inconsistent in protecting its quarterback in allowing 34 sacks, and sputtered in the run game.

Size is one thing. Performance is another as far as Wood is concerned.

''You look around the league and say you want to get bigger. Well, everybody's big,'' Wood said. ''It's about ability. You've got to get the job done.''

General manager Buddy Nix likes the look of his team entering his second season, but remains cautious.

''We got bigger,'' Nix said. Whether ''Whether we can play or not, I don't know, but we are bigger.''

Tagged: Bills, Shawne Merriman, Eric Wood

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