Buffalo Bills: Knock on Wood

The recent remarks of Buffalo center Eric Wood, regarding his solid rehabilitation from the knee injury that limited him to nine games in 2011, magnified the confidence of the Bills' staff about an improved line this year.

Buffalo coaches feel that if Wood can stay healthy — the former first-rounder has suffered two major injuries in three seasons, a fractured leg in '09, and an ACL last year — he can be a Pro Bowl-level performer.

The Bills still have a question at left tackle, where second-year veteran Chris Hairston and rookie second-rounder Cordy Glenn should compete for the starting job, but right tackle Erik Pears seems to have solidified that position. And the coaches also feel that left guard Andy Levitre might be one the most unheralded linemen in the league.

Big prospect, big questions

Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is the last player from Alabama State to be chosen higher than the fourth round, having been grabbed by Minnesota in the second round in 2006. Over the past 25 years, Alabama State had only two players chosen as high as the second round.

The FCS-level school may have landed another possible high-round choice last week, however, when former Georgia tailback Isaiah Crowell transferred to the school after being booted off the Bulldogs' squad by coach Mark Richt following an arrest.

There is a big "but" that's attached, though, to the back. Crowell, the highest-rated high school runner in the country a year ago, and the SEC freshman of the year in 2011 when he rushed for 850 yards and five touchdowns, "might have" first-round potential, according to one NFC area scout. But the scout, and several colleagues, emphasized that Crowell, who suffered disciplinary problems in his first college season, will have to rehabilitate his image considerably over the next few seasons.

"A guy as good as he was supposed to be ... yeah, you start filing away some mental notes even at this early point in his career," a personnel director indicated. "And the word we're getting was that he was a royal pain at Georgia. He's got a few years now before he's draft-eligible, and (scouts) will be watching him as much for what he does of the field as how well he plays on it. Here's hoping this (matures) him."

PUNTS

One of the more puzzling aspects at this late juncture of free agency is the lack of action on unemployed veteran kicker Ryan Longwell, released by Minnesota after the Vikings chose Blair Walsh of Georgia in the sixth round. Longwell is a 15-year veteran and will turn 38 next month, but he's got a lifetime conversion rate of 83.2 percent, kicks off and should at least be on the "short list" of a few teams.

... There is a glut of veteran free agent punters — Jason Baker, Brad Maynard, Mat McBriar, Daniel Sepulveda and Matt Turk — whose names are on the speed dials of a few personnel directors should their teams struggle in camp or preseason.

... With only about three weeks until The Opening of camp, there has been no progress, and, in fact, very little negotiation, toward a resolution of wide receiver Mike Wallace's contract situation in Pittsburgh.

... Despite concerns at cornerback, there has been little talk so far among the Bucs staff about moving Ronde Barber back outside. The 15-year veteran is slated to move to free safety in 2012 and worked very little at corner in "base" situations in the spring. Moving him back to cornerback probably remains a possibility, but not until the team's off-field issues at the position are resolved, and not until coaches have a chance in camp to evaluate some other players.

... The arrest of CB Eric Wright calls to mind a note from much earlier in the spring, suggesting that the Bucs' three high-profile free agency additions could be problematical in some ways. Vincent Jackson, of course, had a contentious history in San Diego over the past few years. Guard Carl Nicks experienced some issues in college. And Wright wasn't always known as a leader in Cleveland or Detroit.

... The Houston defensive staff isn't apt to suggest again that free agent addition Bradie James will give the team the same level of play as DeMeco Ryans, who was traded to Philadelphia in the offseason. But the Texans are heartened by the play of James, a nine-year veteran who groused at times in Dallas about his playing time. James has pretty much established himself as the starter next to Brian Cushing in Houston's 3-4 scheme.

... It appears that more defensive coordinators are working this offseason on nickel coverage designs that include three safeties. The emphasis, of course, remains on No. 3 cornerbacks, since so many clubs now play with three corners for 50 percent or more of the snaps. But the success of multiple-tight-end looks, and the continued trend toward bigger wide receivers, has prompted a look at three-safety packages as well. The emphasis in general on locating safeties with some corner-type coverage abilities is increasing.

THE LAST WORD

"I really do not believe it's a big deal. I just think that they don't, in general, give (short quarterbacks) the opportunities, or stick with them. A guy that's undersized has to prove himself right away. And if you don't have success right away, you're out the door. (It's) similar to a (Tim) Tebow situation. If Tim Tebow had taken over the Broncos last year and lost his first two or three games, he'd never have seen the field again. Instead, he won whatever it was — five, six in a row — and they kept doubting him until next week, until next week, until next week. (But) if he were the 6-4 guy who was a true pocket passer, drafted in the first round and the franchise decided, 'This is our guy,' then he goes out and loses his first three or four starts . . . well, there is a learning curve involved. And they have patience with him. And that's my frustration with it."

— former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie, per NFL.com, on the league's perceived bias against short quarterbacks.


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