Buffalo Bills: 5 Players Who Need To Put Up or Shut Up In 2012

As we move into the slowest month of the NFL offseason, we often take this time to truly reflect on a team, season, or player; both what has come before, and what may soon lie ahead.
In the case of the Buffalo Bills, last season saw the re-emergence of hope in the Queen City, as several relatively new names (Fitzpatrick, Dareus, Barnett, Jackson) tried, unsuccessfully, to cast off the demons of the last decade with an early sound and fury that resulted in nothing more than another losing season.
After a flurry of activity signing and re-signing and drafting in the new year, the Bills’ roster has now started to look overfed with possibilities, both old and new. 
Facing such a glut of options, there are going to have to be some cuts, likely to some of the more recognizable names on the squad. These are players who have been familiar in Buffalo (for several years in some cases), but are either underperforming below the team’s (and fans) expectations, or are so consistently injured these days that their value isn’t even measurable anymore.
The following article, then, is a brief (…I promise) look at five players currently entering the “put up or shut up” era of their time with the Bills. These are the guys that really need to show their worth (and health) in 2012, or else be cut loose to drift on the uncertain seas of free agency come 2013.
WR Donald Jones: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010, Jones caught his first TD against Cincinnatti November 21, 2010. His second came September 11, 2011, for a total of two in his career, with a grand total of 444 yards. Though he’s made some noise in the offseason so far in his quest to be the No. 2 behind Steve Johnson, Jones really needs to show the Bills he’s better than 19.3 yards per game and a single TD per season if he plans on being the No. 2 option in Buffalo.
Granted, he was injured to the tune of just eight healthy games in 2011, but that’s no excuse this year, especially with Derek Hagan, Marcus Easley, and rookie T.J. Graham waiting in the wings. In order to secure his spot in Buffalo, Jones has got to at put up similar stats to the Bills’ slot sensation David Nelson, who had 658 yds and 5 TDs last year, or else he may be house hunting before long.
RB C.J. Spiller: Another 2010 addition, Spiller was the ninth overall choice in the Draft that year after a remarkable run at Clemson (his #28, is actually retired there and he scored a TD in every game of 2009, combining with Jacoby Ford to score the most tandem TDs in NCAA history).
However, he looked lost his first year and a half in Buffalo, struggling to find a place in an offense that largely went through starting RB Fred Jackson, playing everywhere from receiver to returner (he set the FBS record with 7 career TDs returning in college).
That all changed with Jackson’s broken leg Week 12 last year, giving Spiller the opportunity to break out to the tune of 446 rushing yards 3 TDs the rest of the way. That total was more than the entire 2010 season and the first 11 games of 2011 (a combined 398 yds) and included his first 100+ yard game (111 against Denver).
That upswing, though, won’t be worth squat if C.J. doesn’t continue that into the 2012 campaign, as he’ll be called on to be more heavily involved in an offense that now has two potential 1000-yard backs. If Spiller doesn’t get a combined grand rushing and receiving (he has 426 yds, 3 TDs in the passing game), as well as at least 5 TDs all told, he might be unloaded before 2013 and labeled the bust many thought he was becoming.
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NT Terrell Troup: Though projected as a third to fourth-rounder, Troup was taken over Jimmy Claussen and Rob Gronkowski in, you guessed it, the 2010 Draft.
The No. 41 overall pick was projected to be a run stopping plug in the middle of the 3-4 defense, a nose tackle of mammoth proportions.
But he just never got his chance to truly perform, overshadowed by Kyle Williams in 2010, then falling to a back injury in 2011 (as well as being outshined by rookie Marcell Dareus).
The Bills, however, are still high on Troup, both in his potential as a 4-3 tackle and as a long-term star on the defense. Though not completely healthy yet, he has been participating in camp so far and has truly impressed in limited work, but needs to show he’s worth hanging on to if he hopes to secure his roster spot beyond 2012.
Pushing the scales at well over 300 pounds, he’s a massive presence in the middle and should earn a place on the team based on expectations alone, but if he can’t stay healthy this season and give some proof of his talent, he’ll just be another big man looking for a place to play.
CB Terrence McGee: A veteran cornerback entering his tenth season and one of the more familiar names to Bills fans, McGee was the key to the defense the last decade. 92 tackles, 3 INTs, 11 deflections, and 2 sacks in 2004. 72 tackles, 11 deflections, 4 INTs, and a TD the following year. 78 tackles, 21 deflections, 4 INTs in 2007.
He may have gotten some bumps and bruises throughout those early years, but he was largely on the field, terrorizing QBs and receivers alike, anchoring the Bills’ defensive backfield with vicious tackles and great coverage skills.
Then the injury bug started to bite harder, with McGee playing in just 26 games the last three years, only about half of the 48 total. Sure, he’s incredibly talented.. Or he was… I mean, it’s hard to tell when you haven’t seen the guy on the field lately.
Even Terrence has said he doesn’t remember the last season he got to play injury-free (2004 was the only year he went all 16) and though he’s taken a $5.1 million pay cut the final two years of his contract, the departure of fellow veteran Drayton Florence proved that the clock may be ticking on McGee’s career with Buffalo.
If he can’t find a fountain of youth in 2012 (as well as new, stronger knees), we could be seeing the newer, flashier models (Aaron Williams, Stephon Gilmore, Ron Brooks, etc) pushing the old man out the door.
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Chan Gailey: The 15th head coach of the Buffalo Bills, he’s a combined 10-22 in his two years in Western New York, including a 4-12 stinker in 2010 that started with eight straight losses, followed by a promising start in 2011 that quickly turned sour, as the Bills dropped eight of their last nine.
Chan’s an offensive-minded guy, but he hasn’t had the right pieces to make the work in the Queen City and has suffered too many lows to offset the occasional highs in his time with Buffalo.
Ho
wever, entering his third year with a now solid, deep defense and a young, talented offense, coach Gailey could potentially get his first winning season since 1998′s 10-6 year with Dallas.
He’s added some great coaches in defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt and QB coach David Lee, has worked closely with GM Buddy Nix to patiently address all the roster problems of the last two years, and has managed to pull a together a group of unknown players to create something that has a whiff of success to it (maybe).
He’s definitely succeeded in bringing some hope back to the cursed Buffalo fanbase and his attitude in the locker room has many believing this team of blue collar players can make some strides this year, but without a winning record in 2012, the fans might drive him out of town themselves.
Sure, you could also include names like Shawne Merriman and Eric Wood (both very talented, but too often injured to be safe bets), maybe even Leodis McKelvin, but the fact that the Bills can even consider parting with some of these names shows the depth their roster truly holds now. Lose a starter in 2011, the Bills start to stumble. Lose a starter in 2012 and Buffalo looks like they have some talent to fill those gaps, can maintain a winning run even if the injuries start in again.
I mean, they won’t be able to overcome another walking wounded season like they had in 2011, but fans can take comfort in knowing that the Bills have options again, can even afford to trim some fat should players continue to underwhelm. It may not spell “Super Bowl” yet, but the Bills are improving… They just need to make sure the roster is, too.

Joshua Bauer is a writer for Football Nation

About the author  ⁄ jlb716

8 comments
Josh Bauer
Josh Bauer

You can't sell me on Jones when there are so many other talents on the team at receiver, he could lose his job in a heartbeat if Easley or Graham or even Hagan can do better.... Chan can't afford three straight losing seasons... As for CJ, I just want to see more of what I saw the second half of 2011 before I start believing in him long term...

thrilldog2
thrilldog2

Josh,

I also signed up to just let you know that you are way off base on 3 of the 5 players. I agree with you on Troup and McGee, due to their injuries that they might have a hard time making the team if they don't show they are going to maintain their health this season.

But where I disagree is first on Jones. I think it is possible he might not be the #2 but I think based on his knowledge of the system and the other receivers he is competing with his is in the top 6 and even if he loses the #2 spot he still will contribute to the team of WR we have due to his knowledge of the 4 spots he has learned.

I also disagree on Chan. I think what is important is that Chan and Nix are building the team up and I think you can't do it over night. The bills look totally different than when Chan took over and now we really have a team that has some talent. I don't think he will get fired after this year if the Bills do badly but I do think the 2013 season would be his make or break season. I think Nix and Chan just assembled a good team and they are moving the Bills in the right direction and the last thing you need to change coaches when you are building a team so some other coach can rebuild everything again. I think for consistency sake they ride with Chan at least till 2013 0r 2014. He has made a big impact on offence and now with the hiring of Dave for the defense I think we have something special and you just can’t drop that when this is really just the beginning of building the team and having the thing the need in place.

Lastly, you are way off based with CJ. CJ is the running back of the future for the Bills. Nix didn’t draft him #1 because we needed him to come in and perform like a #1 draft pick from day one. Nix saw that CJ was a special Back with special speed and would give our offensive some special explosion that you just don't get in the draft every year. But we have one of the best back in the league already on the team in Fred Jackson so there is no way CJ is going to replace Fred. So Chan is just working CJ in at receiver to get his best playmakers on the field. CJ showed what he could do when Fred got hurt. So CJ is very safe. CJ will only get better, he had the talent all along he just had to get adjusted to the speed of the NFL. He proved he is adjusted towards the end of the season. But you still don’t replace Fred Jackson but I am sure Chan will find better ways to get CJ more Touches. CJ will definitely get a contract renewal when his is up and by that time he will be the main back and Fred will be getting carries as a backup. Meanwhile CJ is learning how to be an all-around complete back like Fred Jackson and I would say Fred is doing a good job in teaching him.

I think the notable player on the bubble who can’t get injured or they are gone include: Merriman (Achilles), Easley (heart condition), Troup (back), and McGee (any injury and he is gone).

I think the other notable players that might be gone just due to depth and if they don’t shine in camp and preseason are: Edwards, Spencer Johnson, Thigpen/Young (who ever win QB#2.

Brad smith job is safe he is a Jack of all trades WR/ST/Wild Cat QB. I think Tyler Thigpen will get cut and they keep Young at the #2 QB since he is a special talent, has experience, cheaper salary, and I think for those reasons Chan will be more confident putting Young in if Fitz gets hurt (even with Fitz cracked ribs Thigpen didn’t get put in, Chan didn't trust him enough).

Josh Bauer
Josh Bauer

Correction : Ford and Spiller set the all time yardage record by a duo (10334), not the td record...

Josh Bauer
Josh Bauer

first off, I'm flattered you'd sign up just for me...

Like I told WATN below, CJ was more of a conversation starter. If he's the player he was to start 2011 (21 for 115 the first 10 games... including 2 games with no rushing stats cuz he was a receiver with 7 catches and 48 yds in those two games), do the Bills renew his deal past 2013? I'm not saying that if continues to play like he did the last five or six that they should boot him, I'm just saying that I hope he continues to improve or they won't be doling out the type of money to keep him once his deal runs out

Josh Bauer
Josh Bauer

Totally agree with Merriman... hurt once more, even two games, he's out. Kelsay's safe, he's a known veteran and did good work last year. I have no real opinion on the qb trio, though with young and smith playing slightly similar offense, you'd think they'd let one or the other go... Thigpen would require less alteration in the offensive gameplan if Fitz went down. Edwards seems expendable, the end of that conversation. As for Easley, he's a beast on paper, just like the Bills, but who cares about paper, it needs to show on the field.., plus, he wasn't even supposed to be playing in the NFL after being diagnosed with that heart condition last year so he's got to be locked in to impress, and he's got the skills to do it...still, he missed the first season with a knee injury from camp...

As for mine, will defend CJ as a conversation pick more than anything else, though if he reverts to the player he was to start last year, and the Bills may not want to pay him past 2013.

Jones is "making noise", as in he's actually looking quite good in camp so far, not in that he's actually saying something. I think he's got no. 2, he just can't lazy or injured, or score just one TD this season.

Chan, Troup, and McGee are truly looking at "perform or move on" type of years.

Josh Bauer
Josh Bauer

Totally agree with Merriman... hurt once more, even two games, he's out. Kelsay's safe, he's a known veteran and did good work last year. I have no real opinion on the qb trio, though with young and smith playing slightly similar offense, you'd think they'd let one or the other go... Thigpen would require less alteration in the offensive gameplan if Fitz went down. Edwards seems expendable, the end of that conversation. As for Easley, he's a beast on paper, just like the Bills, but who cares about paper, it needs to show on the field.., plus, he wasn't even supposed to be playing in the NFL after being diagnosed with that heart condition last year so he's got to be locked in to impress, and he's got the skills to do it...still, he missed the first season with a knee injury from camp...

As for mine, will defend CJ as a conversation pick more than anything else, though if he reverts to the player he was to start last year, and the Bills may not want to pay him past 2013.

Jones is "making noise", as in he's actually looking quite good in camp so far, not in that he's actually saying something. I think he's got no. 2, he just can't lazy or injured, or score just one TD this season.

Chan, Troup, and McGee are truly looking at "perform or move on" type of years.

WeAreTheNormal
WeAreTheNormal

OK, Josh, I feel the need to likewise offer my criticism. I pretty much disagree with all your commentary and keep most of it to myself, but--like the person above me--I feel that this one is completely overboard. C.J. Spiller? Really? You can only have one guy running the ball, and that's Fred Jackson. With all due respect, all football fans know that running backs need to get into a rhythm, meaning twenty to twenty-five carries per game. You are not offered that many carries as a backup. Notice how he improved as a starter!

Also, I really don't feel Donald Jones did anything wrong stating he's the #2 wide receiver out to prove his critics wrong. I'm sure he was answering reporters' questions about his job security. I hardly consider that "making some noise." I do agree, however, that he's hardly a lock for the job.

Here are my top five and tell me what you think:

1. Vince Young/Tyler Thigpen/Brad Smith: who is the odd man out? There are only two spots available behind Fitzpatrick.

2. Chris Kelsay: is he even worth the big contract he inked now that there's so much depth along the defensive line?

3. Shawne Merriman: if he suffers any further injury, will the Bills show any more patience with him? Will he retire?

4. Marcus Easley: he seems to be a legimiate contender for the #2 receiver spot, but what happens if he is injured?

5. Dwan Edwards: is there even a place for him on the roster? Could he be a numbers casulty at the end of the preseason?

I do agree with your assessment with McGee due to his recent history of injury and Torell Troup, as well. He may as well be called John McCargo.

Dukeybomb
Dukeybomb

I literally signed up just to say that I STOPPED reading this article after I seen C.J. Spiller on this list. If you think this team is going to move on from his talent at ALL. You are mistaken.

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