Bills RB Spiller eager to bounce back in 2nd year

Fast as C.J. Spiller might be, it turns out there’s some things

the Buffalo Bills running back learned he can’t outrun.

For starters, there were the preposterously high expectations he

had entering his rookie season last year. As a first-round pick,

Spiller truly believed he wouldn’t miss a beat at the NFL level in

matching the prolific production he enjoyed at Clemson.

Man, was he wrong.

”Guys were telling me that once the season starts everything

picks up,” Spiller recalled with a shake of the head and a laugh

this week. ”But you know, as a young guy you kind of wonder if

it’s really true or not. Well, that’s what kind of happened.”

Spiller learned the hard way how quickly even a highly touted

first-round pick could go from dynamic to dud.

”Ha, ha, I thought I was back in Death Valley again,” he said,

referring to Clemson’s Frank Howard Field at Memorial Stadium, a

facility Spiller essentially owned during his senior season. ”But

it was a great learning experience. I know what to expect now. I’m

definitely excited about having another year to go out there and

showcase.”

Spiller has come to training camp determined to put last year

behind him.

Listed at 193 pounds, he’s 3 pounds lighter than a year ago, but

he has noticeably bulked up his upper body. Spiller has also

reassessed his expectations, appreciating he needs to be more

patient as a runner and understanding that a 4-yard gain is

perfectly acceptable at the NFL level.

”I think I was just trying to force it so much, just trying to

make the big play,” he said. ”This year, I believe I’ve become

much more mentally strong. So we’ll see if it pays off.”

Perhaps, a cosmetic change will help, too after Spiller swapped

jersey numbers with cornerback Leodis McKelvin. Going from No. 21

to 28, Spiller is now wearing the same number he’s had since the

10th grade.

”Last year, being 21 just felt different,” he said. ”Now I’m

back to my original number. It may help me play better. It may not.

But I still have to go out there and get my job done.”

He’s got plenty of catching up to do after a dreadful debut.

Spiller managed a combined 14 yards from scrimmage on 11 touches in

his only start, the season opener against Miami. Even after the

Bills traded running back Marshawn Lynch to Seattle in Week 5,

Spiller still had difficulty getting regular playing time behind

veteran Fred Jackson.

Spiller finished with 283 yards rushing on 74 carries and 157

yards receiving on 24 catches. His biggest impact came returning

kickoffs, where he averaged 23 yards on 44 returns. He scored both

his touchdowns – one on a catch and another on a 95-yard kickoff

return – in the same game, a 38-30 loss to New England in Week

3.

That didn’t come close to matching what the Bills were expecting

when they drafted Spiller with the ninth pick. Bills owner Ralph

Wilson was so enamored of the selection, he predicted Spiller would

provide an immediate spark to what had been a ”dull” attack.

Spiller was a threat nearly every time he touched the ball at

Clemson. The ACC’s player of the year as a senior, he finished his

four-year college career with 51 touchdowns, including 32

rushing.

Coach Chan Gailey maintains his confidence in Spiller, while

noting there is much room for improvement.

Gailey put the emphasis on Spiller to become a better pass

blocker and be more responsible in protecting the ball after the

player had six fumbles, losing three. Gailey also put the onus on

himself, saying he has to do a better job devising plays to get the

ball to Spiller in the open field.

”That’s where his forte is, having the ball in some area where

he can work,” Gailey said. ”We need him to be a big part of the

offense.”

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said it’s unfair to judge Spiller

on his rookie season.

”There aren’t too many people that can come in their rookie

year and just dominate the NFL,” Fitzpatrick said. ”He’s going to

be a big impact player this year. He is more confident. I think

he’s also more calm.”

Spiller has a cool exterior and rarely shows emotion.

There is far more going on below the surface, especially after

last year.

”I’m a quiet guy and never really get mad. But it’s burning

down inside,” Spiller said. ”I’ve got the fire to go out and

prove everybody wrong to show that I can play in this league.”