When training camp opened two months ago, it looked as if the strongest, deepest unit on the Bills' roster was at wide receiver. There was the supposed No. 1 guy, Lee Evans, 2010 breakout player Steve Johnson, returning waterbug Roscoe Parrish, upstarts David Nelson and Donald Jones, and promising second-year player Marcus Easley.
Things have taken a drastic turn since early
Evans was traded to Baltimore, Easley was put on
injured reserve with a heart condition, and Parrish got hurt against
the Raiders Sunday and will be out for a while. Further, in the
closing, frenetic moments against Oakland, Johnson was sidelined by leg
cramps, so that left Nelson, Jones, and late-camp free agent signee
Ruvell Martin playing wide receiver, and Nelson was left all alone to
catch the winning touchdown pass.
So, while the Bills' receiving corps isn't nearly
as strong as it once was thought to be, it certainly came through in a
big way against the Raiders. Nelson caught 10 passes for 83 yards,
Johnson had eight receptions for 96 yards and a TD, and Jones made a
huge catch to convert a fourth down on the winning drive.
"I feel like we've got a system that allows a guy
to be successful if he'll be at the right place at the right time and
can win some one-on-ones," said coach Chan Gailey.
When Evans was dealt in August, fans saw it as a
move to dump a big salary, and they were infuriated that he fetched a
mere fourth-round pick in return. As it turns out, that was the only
deal available, so the Bills took it. In two games with the Ravens,
Evans has two catches for 45 yards, so the Bills might have been
correct in their assessment that he's a player on the decline.
Johnson was expected to step into Evans' role as
the No. 1 receiver, and though there was skepticism that he could excel
without Evans drawing attention on the other side, Johnson's on his way
to backing up his 82-catch production of a year ago. He has 12 catches
for 162 yards and 2 TDs in two games.
Nelson has been a revelation. He made the squad as
an undrafted free agent last season, played significantly as a slot
receiver in three- and four-wide sets, and he's raised his level of
play this season. He leads the Bills with 14 receptions for 149 yards.
"He's a tough match-up for a lot of teams," said
quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick after he threw for 264 yards and led the
Bills on five straight TD drives in the second half against Oakland.
"He's a real good, smooth wide receiver. And there is even the
touchdown I had to Stevie, David runs a great route and is wide open in
the end zone. There is some stuff he did today that I expected out of
him. He's a great player and I know that he thinks that I think, he's a
great player. I have a ton of confidence in that guy. He was good last
year and is taking it to the next level this year."
The loss of Parrish means that Nelson will get
even more playing time in the slot as the No. 3 man with Johnson and
Jones starting on the outside. It also means that Martin, who did not
have a good day against the Raiders in his first significant playing
time for the Bills, must find a way to get involved.
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