It’s never a good thing for your most proven receiver to go down with an injury, but for Buffalo Bills wide-out Naaman Roosevelt, it’s an opportunity.
Lee Evans limped off the field with an ankle injury late in the second quarter of the Bills 13-6 victory over the Cleveland Browns Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. While blocking downfield on a Jonathan Stupar 35-yard catch and run, Evans turned his ankle and went down. He didn’t return, won’t be available for at least two games and it’s highly likely he’ll be placed on Injured Reserve when it’s all said and done since there’s only three games remaining this season.
While the last thing Roosevelt wanted is to get forced into the lineup because of injuries, it’s exactly where he’s at right now. With Evans on the shelf and Roscoe Parrish long-gone with a broken wrist, Roosevelt out of the blue becomes the team’s fourth receiver.
For those who’ve been watching, Bills head coach Chan Gailey likes to use multiple four-receiver sets for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. That’s going to spell several reps for Roosevelt and a chance to prove he’s worth keeping around beyond 2010… and not just a feel-good local story formerly of the practice squad.
As most of you already know, Roosevelt is a home-grown boy. He attended St. Joes High School and captured the Connolly Cup in 2005; given annually to Western New York’s best high school football player.
He stayed local for college, attending the University at Buffalo where he became the school’s all-time career leader in receptions (268), receiving yards (3.551) and receiving touchdowns (28). Former UB head football coach Turner Gill, who recruited Roosevelt, called him “one of the best football players he’s ever coached and more importantly, one of the best young men he’s ever coached.”
Roosevelt wasn’t selected this past April when the NFL draft rolled around, but within a few days fulfilled a childhood dream when he signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Bills.
He was one of the team’s last releases on the final cut down day, but a strong training camp and propensity for playing special teams well quickly led to him being assigned to the practice squad after he cleared waivers.
Roosevelt worked hard at practice every day but had to wait his turn for an opportunity. When Parrish went down for the season many anticipated it would be Roosevelt who’d get the promotion, but instead the more experienced Paul Hubbard was activated from the practice squad. He didn’t work out and was released November 19.
On November 28 when Shawne Merriman and Keith Ellison were placed on Injured Reserve, Roosevelt finally got his chance to dress for a NFL game on Sunday.
Suddenly, he goes from just being a guy on the roster happy to be in the NFL, to potentially becoming an significant part of the offense over their last three upcoming games.
With Evans gone, fellow undrafted rookie Donald Jones will see a lot of snaps starting on the outside. Fitzpatrick will also look plenty to another undrafted guy in the slot in David Nelson, who has caught a touchdown pass in two straight games. Combine that with Roosevelt, and three of the four current active receivers on the roster were rookies looking for work the day after the 2010 draft.
The other guy, Stevie Johnson, is the real blue-chipper of the bunch— he’s a seventh-rounder from 2008.
Barring a roster move for a receiver this week and Buffalo having just four healthy bodies to play the position, Gailey admitted he has a lot of thinking to do on how often, if at all, he’ll be using four receiver sets Sunday when the Bills travel to Miami.
He also hasn’t decided on if he’ll make a move to bring a fifth receiver into the mix.
“We’re going to talk about it,” Gailey said. ”You’d rather not go with just four, especially if you think you’re going to play somewhat of a high percentage of four-wides in the game. But sometimes other positions dictate that you can’t go with five [receivers]. So, we’ll see.”
Gailey has shown confidence in Nelson and Jones throughout the season and is taking the same attitude with Roosevelt. Gailey feels Roosevelt has knowledge of all four receiver positions and he’ll be handle the extended playing time .
“He’s a very intelligent guy,” Gailey said Monday. ”He knows them all, too. It’s not like you have to tell him what to do every time he goes to a different spot – he knows the offensive passing game scheme. It won’t be an issue from that standpoint at all.”
Fitzpatrick said Monday he’ll help get Roosevelt up to speed.
“During the week, Naaman’s a guy that knows all four positions,” Fitzpatrick said. ”During the week, we’ll spell guys on particular plays. All our guys aren’t running every single play. So, he’s a guy that’s been in there a ton in practice. It’s just a matter of getting him out there in games and making sure that he’s comfortable with what he’s doing. He’s a guy that I trust in terms of you know where he’s going to be, you know he’s always going to make the catch and I think I’m looking to him getting out there, getting his opportunity and seeing what he can do with it.”
Roosevelt has yet to have a NFL catch to his credit. Expect that to change on Sunday.
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