Marrone placing no limits on Bills running attack
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The reins are coming off the Buffalo Bills running attack.
Rookie coach Doug Marrone has no intention of placing limitations on how many times C.J. Spiller or Fred Jackson carry the ball this season.
“Absolutely not,” Marrone declared following a voluntary minicamp practice this week. “My philosophy has always been, if someone starts off and they’re running well, just keep feeding them the ball.”
That’s a re-assuring comment to both running backs, especially with the NFL trending to a more pass-happy focus.
“That’s music to my ears as a running back,” Jackson said.
That’s a distinct departure from the approach of Chan Gailey, Marrone’s predecessor. Gailey spent parts of last season being second-guessed for under-utilizing Spiller in fear of wearing down the team’s most dynamic threat.
Spiller still finished eighth in the NFL last season with 1,244 yards rushing. And the Bills’ 2010 first-round draft pick did so with just 207 carries — fewest among the league’s top 18 rushers.
“Obviously, I don’t really know the whole situation from last year,” said Marrone, who was hired in January after spending the past four seasons at Syracuse. “I think we have an opportunity to have two backs back there than can be productive.”
Marrone has several reasons to be counting on his running attack entering this season.
The Bills are young at receiver and unsettled at quarterback, with rookie first-round pick EJ Manuel still being groomed for the starting job.
That puts more emphasis on Spiller and Jackson, who combined to help Buffalo finish sixth in the NFL in yards rushing last year. Buffalo’s 2,217 yards rushing was the team’s best total since 1992.
Both enter this year with plenty to prove.
Spiller is eager to build off a season in which he established career highs in yards rushing and team-leading eight touchdowns, including two receiving. He also made his first Pro Bowl appearance after being selected as an injury replacement.
Spiller refused to get drawn into a discussion about his lack of playing time. He instead, explained how focused he is on helping the team achieve success this season. It’s a message he shared with Marrone in one of their first meetings this offseason.
“That was one of the first things that I told coach when he got the job. Everybody was talking about how was I going to be utilized,” Spiller said. “I just told him the only thing I care about is winning and ending this drought of not making the playoffs.”
Spiller referred to the Bills having gone 13 seasons without a playoff berth — the NFL’s longest active drought.
As for Jackson, the Bills’ former workhorse is eager to rebound from a rash of injuries that have slowed his production. He’s missed 10 of Buffalo’s past 22 games due to an assortment of injuries.
“Last season was a season I want to forget,” said Jackson, who missed six games due to a concussion and leg injury. “My plan is to come out here and, when my number is called, to make plays like I’ve been capable of making throughout my career.”
Both agree that neither will get as much playing time as they desire. They’re fine with that, understanding that together they can provide a one-two punch to an offense that’s been known for sputtering.
“We feel like we want this offense to go through us,” Jackson said. “We know that to get the things done that we want to get done, both of us have to be out there making plays.”
Spiller’s already off to a rousing start three weeks into spring minicamps, particularly wowing teammates in a receiving role. On several occasions, Spiller’s used his blistering speed to beat defenders to make deep catches up the sideline.
Center Eric Wood needs no reminder of Spiller and Jackson’s potential, and questioned why the two weren’t used more in previous seasons.
“Any time you’ve got a guy that’s having a year like C.J. was having last year, any time the ball’s going anywhere else, you can kind of find fault,” Wood said. “It was kind of the same way in 2011 with Fred before he got hurt. It’s a tough spot for a coach to be in. And we’re going to ride the hot hand, I’m sure.
“And hopefully, it’s both of them.”