Rookie RB Spiller gets the nod as Bills starter
AP Sports Writer
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) – It took a few short months for Bills rookie running back C.J. Spiller to win the starting job and elevate expectations around town that Buffalo’s anemic offense just might have a semblance of a spark.
The one thing Spiller’s careful of is to remind everyone that he can’t do it alone.
“It’s going to take a team effort to get to where we want to go, and I’m just glad to be a part of that,” Spiller said Wednesday. “I mean, it’s not going to be a one-man show.”
No, but it sure looks that way after Spiller ran away with the job by displaying his dynamic potential this preseason. Despite missing the first week of training camp negotiating his first contract, the ninth player selected in the draft turned out being a quick and electrifying study.
Spiller scored three touchdowns in three preseason games – all against first-stringers – and finished with 26 carries for 122 yards. He added three catches and even showed potential in running plays out of the wildcat formation.
That was enough for coach Chan Gailey to tab Spiller as a starter for Sunday, when the Bills open the season at home against AFC East rival Miami.
And Gailey noted his decision would likely have been the same even if Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch – the two split the starting duties last year – didn’t miss most of the preseason because of injuries.
“I think he showed in college that he was a dynamic player. And I think that he’s shown in his few reps here that he is a very good player,” Gailey said. “He’s done a good job and he’s earned the spot.”
Jackson is set to return after missing nearly a month, but will be limited while wearing a pad to protect his surgically repaired left hand. Lynch returned in the preseason finale after missing three weeks with an ankle injury.
While both will to get their share of playing time, Spiller is expected to be a primary focal point. And that means, Spiller understands he’s going to get plenty of more attention from opposing defenses.
“Now everybody kind of knows what I’m capable of doing, so of course, the bull’s-eye’s probably going to get bigger, and I’ve got to be prepared,” he said, noting that’s nothing new after his successful career at Clemson.
“That’s a good thing to have because I can open doors for everybody else,” Spiller said. “If a team’s just going to focus on one guy, I wish them well.”
The ACC player of the year last season finished his four-year college career with 51 touchdowns, including 32 rushing. He also became only the second college player – joining Reggie Bush – to finish with 3,000 yards rushing, 1,500 yards in kickoff returns, 1,000 yards receiving and 500 yards in punt returns.
Spiller’s impact was apparent last month. Aside from his running ability, his presence in the backfield kept defenses guessing and opened up the Bills passing attack.
In a 34-21 win over Indianapolis on Aug. 19, quarterback Trent Edwards caught the Colts napping. Faking a hand-off to Spiller, Edwards dropped back and hit a wide-open Lee Evans for a 70-yard touchdown.
In a 35-20 win over Cincinnati a week later, the Bengals opened by neutralizing Spiller. Edwards took advantage by going 5 of 5 for 48 yards to cap a touchdown drive with a 12-yard pass to Roscoe Parrish.
“He takes a lot of pressure off our passing game,” Edwards said. “I think if you have that run threat, you’re going to keep defenses off balance. You’re not going to be so predictable, the pass-rush isn’t going to come as hard. And that just helps having that element in your offense,”
The offense could use all the help it can get in having finished no better than 25th in the NFL in yards gained in each of the past seven seasons.
Spiller’s both anxious and excited in looking ahead to his regular season debut. And it makes no difference that it comes against his home-state Dolphins.
From Lake Butler, Fla., Spiller didn’t root for any one specific team, though he recalled his mother buying a Dolphins jersey when he was young.
“I never really became a fan of their team,” he said. “I didn’t like them. I didn’t dislike them.”
Spiller, though, is partial to the No. 21 Bills’ jersey he’s wearing these days.
“Oh yeah, this uniform fits great,” Spiller said. “It’s tight. And it’s what I need so I can be ready to run.”