(Eds: With AP Photos.)By JOHN WAWROWAP Sports Writer
As ringleader of a Bills offense affectionately labeled ”Mis-Fitz,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick shrugs off concerns of how Buffalo will overcome losing yet another receiver to injury.
”The next guy in line’s got to step up,” Fitzpatrick said. ”We’ll find out who the next guy is and see what he can do.”
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With Donald Jones expected to miss up to six weeks because of a sprained ankle, the Bills’ No-Name group of receivers is prepared to add another layer of anonymity.
Naaman Roosevelt, anyone?
In the latest installment of what’s become a near weekly ”Who’s Next?” succession plan at receiver, the Bills are trading one 2010 undrafted rookie free agent in Jones for another in Roosevelt. The former University at Buffalo star has in six short weeks gone from being one of the team’s final cuts to stepping into a potential No. 2 spot Sunday when the Bills (4-1) travel to play the New York Giants (3-2).
Based on a track record of getting production from castoffs and journeymen on a team that’s ranked ninth in the NFL in yards passing and third in points, Fitzpatrick doesn’t expect to miss a beat.
”You can’t let things like that hold you back,” he said. ”You can’t let them tie your hands behind your backs to where you’re thinking you can do certain things. Everybody that’s out there is an NFL player, and you’ve got to trust that they’re going to be able to do their job.”
Roosevelt already has Fitzpatrick’s trust.
Filling in after Jones was hurt Sunday, Roosevelt had five catches for 41 yards in a 31-24 win over Philadelphia. Three of his receptions came in the second half, including a nifty 20-yard gain with Buffalo nursing a 31-24 lead and facing first-and-15 at its own 5-yard line in the fourth quarter.
”That’s just how we play. That’s my style,” Fitzpatrick said. ”I’m going to throw to the open guy.”
Fitzpatrick has made it look easy with everyone who’s stepped on the field on a team that already has three receivers on injured reserve – Roscoe Parrish (ankle), Marcus Easley (chest) and Felton Huggins (concussion) – and traded its most experienced threat, Lee Evans, to Baltimore in August.
”That’s an interesting thing about Fitz. He can adapt to receivers as good and maybe better than anybody I’ve been around,” coach Chan Gailey said. ”You can plug somebody in new, and he finds a connection with him without a bunch of practice.”
The seventh-year journeyman chalks it up to his previous experience as a backup, during which he had to make the most out of limited practice time to build chemistry with receivers. And it also has something to do with the receivers themselves, who are playing beyond expectations.
”He doesn’t know any better, just like the rest of them,” Fitzpatrick said of Roosevelt. ”He doesn’t know you’re not supposed to step in and do that and have the catches he did.”
Roosevelt’s emergence is the latest surprise story among a rag-tag collection of castoffs.
It’s a group led by Stevie Johnson, a 2008 seventh-round pick, who had a breakout season last year. There’s David Nelson, another 2010 undrafted rookie free agent, who’s taken over the slot role. And don’t forget tight end Scott Chandler, who is on his fourth team in four years and leading Buffalo with four touchdown catches.
With Jones out, that group is getting thin.
”It’s all hands on deck this week,” Gailey said, ”and maybe for the next few weeks.”
Aside from Roosevelt, wildcat specialist Brad Smith is expected to see additional time at receiver. There’s journeyman Ruvell Martin, who’s played mostly on special teams and has yet to make a catch this season. When Parrish was lost after Week 2, Gailey toyed with the option of getting backup running back C.J. Spiller more involved as a speedy outside threat.
Gailey is a fan of Roosevelt, even though he cut the player already this year.
”Here he goes again,” Gailey said, noting how Roosevelt had nine catches for 139 yards in Buffalo’s final six games last year after being promoted from the practice squad. ”He was thrown into the fire last week and responded. And I don’t expect anything less from him this week.”