Spiller Disappointed In Rookie Season

Bills C.J. Spiller

The Buffalo Bills 34-3 loss was just one more illustration of how far the team still has to go to be competitive. One player Buffalo is looking to is rookie C.J. Spiller.

When C.J. Spiller was selected with the No. 9 overall pick of the 2010 draft, the running back from Clemson fully expected to come to Buffalo and resuscitate a moribund offense.

It hasn't exactly worked out for him or the Bills.

"I had visions of being the poster boy of the rookie class," Spiller said recently.

Instead, he's been a disappointment, not so much to his teammates and coaches, but certainly to himself.

"I always dream big, and that has nothing to do with being cocky; I learned that you've got to dream big if you want things to happen for you," Spiller said. "I had high expectations coming into the season, and unfortunately it hasn't worked out."

Spiller rushed for 30 yards, and he caught two passes for 54 yards in Buffalo's 34-3 loss to New England. He also lost two fumbles -- one on a running play and one on a punt return.

"That was probably the worst game I've ever played," Spiller said. "Putting the ball on the ground three times, losing it twice, putting the team in bad situations. It was a tough day."

It's been a tough year for the player who made so many big plays in college, so many that the Bills felt they couldn't pass him by even though they had glaring needs on both of their lines.

For the season, Spiller has been only average on returns, while he has just 278 yards rushing, 25 pass receptions for a mere 157 yards, and only one offensive touchdown as the Bills have fallen to 4-11.

Spiller was the first running back selected in the draft, yet he ranks sixth in rookie rushing yards behind Tampa Bay's LeGarrette Blount (941 yards), New Orleans' Chris Ivory, San Diego's Ryan Mathews, Detroit's Jahvid Best and Minnesota's Toby Gerhart. He's third in receptions among rookie backs behind Best (52) and Washington's Keiland Williams.

Spiller understands what has gone wrong this year, and most of it has to do with learning how to run the ball in the NFL. Unlike in college, when he could simply outrun everyone on the other team, that's not possible now. He hasn't quite grasped the concept of being patient and waiting for a block to develop, particularly on plays designed to hit between the tackles.

"I think more than anything, one of the things I talk to him about is being patient," said starting running back Fred Jackson, who clearly has learned that skill. "He's so fast, so it's hard for him to take time to find a hole. He just wants to hit the hole at top speed and go. It's one thing you learn in a rookie season."

Spiller said he's had to deal with some hate mail recently, but he said, "That's all part of it." What he's more concerned with is getting himself on track and moving forward.

"The season hasn't gone exactly the way I wanted it to, but I think I'm a totally different player than when we played (the Patriots) last," he said. "I see the progress from week to week that I'm getting better, and that's all I can ask for. Right now, it's growing pains for me, but it's all about how you respond."

Coach Chan Gailey played a key role in the selection of Spiller because, as an offensive-minded coach, he saw Spiller as a player he could find creative ways of getting the ball to. That hasn't happened, mainly because Spiller is adapting a bit slower than expected and Gailey hasn't been willing to feature him in the game plans.

He pulled Spiller as a starter after the rookie gained 7 yards on six carries against the Dolphins, and Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson have started since then.

"He's got some things to learn about protections, some things to learn about reading blocking schemes, things he didn't have to do a lot of in college," Gailey said. "He just has to learn. In five years, this will never come up."

NOTES

--For the sixth year in a row, the schedule had the Bills traveling to New England early in the season, and then hosting the Patriots near the end. And for the sixth year in a row, the Bills were swept, and the margin of defeat was larger in the second game, in Buffalo. In the games at Foxborough, the Bills' average margin of defeat was 9.5 points. At Ralph Wilson Stadium in the last six years, the average margin of defeat was 24.5.

A Tight (End) Situation
--The Bills' struggles against opposing tight ends reached epic proportions in the loss to New England. Rob Gronkowski caught two TD passes and Alge Crumpler one. That makes it 11 TD passes caught by tight ends against the Bills this year. Since the start of the 2006 season, Buffalo's tight ends -- most of them a forgettable group -- have combined to catch 14 TD passes. When asked about Gronkowski specifically, coach Chan Gailey downplayed the lack of coverage and pinned more of the blame on Buffalo's lack of a pass rush.

"Well, pass rush would have helped a couple of those," Gailey said. "The guy (Tom Brady) stood back there forever, and somebody finally came open. That's one thing you can do -- you can get better pass rush."

Stevie Johnson Is For Real
--Wide receiver Stevie Johnson surpassed 1,000 yards receiving, the first Bill to do that since Lee Evans in 2008, and it's just the 17th such season in team history. "Individually, just looking back on the season, it's pretty cool that you can get 1,000 yards," Johnson said. "Any receiver would love to have 1,000. That's all individual stuff, though. We all know that this is a team game, and you couldn't do it without anybody else, without the line, running backs, without the defense getting to balls. ... It's a good thing individually, but overall we didn't get the win, so it's not too good for me."

No Defense For The Run Defense
--Buffalo's run defense took a big step backward. For the seventh time this year, the Bills allowed at least 200 yards rushing, one shy of the franchise record, which was set in 1978, the year the Bills set the mark for all-time run defense futility by giving up 3,228 yards. New England topped 200 yards in both games against the Bills, finishing with a total of 417, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis gaining 202 yards.

"If you can't stop the run in the National Football League, you're not going to win a whole lot of games," Bills strong safety Donte Whitner said. "Especially when you play a team like New England because they use the run to set up the play-action and other throws. We knew we had to stop the run today, and we failed miserably."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Fred Jackson rushed for 50 yards on the first possession of the game, but he finished with only 81 yards.
--WR Naaman Roosevelt caught four passes for 74 yards, including a 30-yarder.
--WR David Nelson did not have a catch, primarily because he was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a season-ending rib injury.
--P Brian Moorman just hasn't been able to figure it out all season, and he had another poor game, averaging 34 yards on his two punts.
--LB Akin Ayodele was in on a season-high 17 tackles, but only one went for lost yardage.
--RB C.J. Spiller rushed for 30 yards and caught two passes for 54 yards, including a pretty 41-yarder, but he also fumbled twice.

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