Bills upbeat in reporting for voluntary workouts

Defensive end Mario Williams was happy to finally begin putting

faces to the names of his new Buffalo Bills teammates. Quarterback

Ryan Fitzpatrick had no complaints trading in his golf clubs and

100-degree temperatures back home in Arizona for a 30-degree day in

Buffalo.

And Shawne Merriman was so upbeat over reporting for the first

day of the Bills’ voluntary conditioning program Monday that not

even a freak snowstorm could put a chill into his mood.

”I’m so excited, I’m going to go out and make snow angels,”

Merriman said.

That Merriman can even kid about making snow angels is

encouraging news. After injuries limited him to playing eight games

over the past two seasons, the ”Lights Out” linebacker said his

rehab from surgery to repair a nagging right Achilles tendon injury

has him on track to be ready for training camp.

”Absolutely, that’s everyone’s target, including mine,”

Merriman said. ”I’m excited seeing the guys, and how excited

everybody is to get back here and start working.”

The Bills are back in town together for the first time since

cleaning out their lockers in early January following a

disappointing 6-10 season in which they lost eight of their last

nine games to miss the playoffs for a 12th straight season.

Yet, the mood was distinctly upbeat. The players are buoyed by

an eventful offseason in which the front-office raised expectations

by delivering on its vow to retain talent – receiver Stevie Johnson

and tight end Scott Chandler were both re-signed – and add to it by

signing Williams and fellow defensive end Mark Anderson in free

agency last month.

”There’s a lot of excitement in this building right now,”

Fitzpatrick said. ”That’s the message I think that’s clearly

gotten across to the players through some of the stuff we’ve done

this offseason.”

The buzz is not limited to just the Bills facility, either.

”Talking to a bunch of fans around town, they let us know how

excited they are about things,” running back Fred Jackson said.

”We feel the exact same way. We feel the organization has done

some things to give us a great opportunity to go out and win

football games. So we’re putting a lot of expectations on

ourselves.”

The spark was provided by Williams, the pass-rushing specialist

who became the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player upon signing a

six-year $100 million contract three days into free agency was the

key move.

Williams made sure to be on hand for the first day of workouts,

well aware of what his presence means to improving both a patchwork

defense and the Bills overall fortunes. And he was reminded of that

a few days earlier, when he was shopping at a local store and

greeted by a nervous fan.

”He was shaking, and he was like, `Mario, I just want you to

know we’re on your back,”’ Williams said. ”I told him, `Thank

you. I’m here to win.”’

And it’s not lost on Williams that he might have something to

prove, too. He was limited to playing just five games last season

with Houston due to a torn chest muscle, and also missed three

games in 2010 after having surgery to repair a sports hernia.

”I’ve been away from football for a while, too,” he said.

”I’m extremely anxious to get out there.”

The conditioning program will continue through next month,

before the Bills open a series of voluntary minicamps starting on

May 29. Buffalo then closes its spring sessions with a three-day

mandatory camp that opens June 19.

Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus couldn’t wait to attend the

workout program. Aside from meeting his new defensive linemates,

last year’s rookie first-round pick missed the benefit of any

offseason workouts last spring because they were wiped out as a

result of the NFL lockout.

”I’m just so excited about so many things this year that I’m at

a loss for words,” Dareus said, noting he’s spent the past

three-plus months in his native Alabama dropping weight and adding

muscle.

”I think we can be pretty good,” Dareus said, assessing the

potential of Buffalo’s new-look defense. ”I know I’m going to have

a ball this season. I can’t wait.”

In other news Monday, offensive linemen Kraig Urbik and Chad

Rinehart both re-signed with the Bills after accepting the tendered

contracts offered them by the team last month.

Rinehart, a fourth-year player, had 12 starts in 16 games last

year, splitting time between right and left guard in his first full

season with Buffalo. Urbik, a third-year player, started 13 games

split between right guard and center last season, his second with

Buffalo.