ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 24: C.J. Spiller #28 of the Buffalo Bills runs against the Denver Broncos at Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. Spiller had his first 100 yard rushing game in the NFL. Buffalo won 40-14. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
The Buffalo Bills are generating so much buzz this off-season that the buzz-worthy players - headlined, of course, by a certain $100 million defensive end - are overshadowing other buzz-worthy players that would otherwise be headliners in a typical Bills off-season.
One such overshadowed player is third-year running back C.J. Spiller, who has been the subject of rather ardent praise from his head coach and his quarterback this month.
"His confidence level just went through the roof, in my opinion," head coach Chan Gailey said of Spiller's fast finish in 2011. "He knows what to do a lot better now. He has a lot of confidence that he can play running back, he can go out and play receiver, he can do a lot of things - and blocking."
"He's gotten better at his blocking from the previous year," Gailey continued. "His ball security was a lot better last year. He carried it multiple times and did a good job of controlling the ball. Just his overall confidence level, I think, is very good this year."
Spiller's growth into a more well-rounded back capable of playing on every down has helped further integrate him into Gailey's offense - and he's made noticeable strides in his comfort level with the offense in general.
"C.J. is a completely changed man," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said last week in an interview with WGR 550. "It's been apparent from day one of this off-season. I think the biggest thing with what he did at the end of the year last year was he got his confidence, and you just see how comfortable he is in this system now.
"He's telling guys - receivers - that they're lined up wrong, and letting them know," Fitzpatrick continued. "There's just so many things - he's directing people around on the field and out of the huddle. I think he's ready to make a big jump. I think mentally, he's made a big jump in the last year, and with his confidence level where it is right now, we expect big things out of him this year."
Big things may be hard to come by, however, if Gailey can't satisfactorily draw up an offense that prominently features both he and Fred Jackson, who is still widely and justifiably considered the team's top tailback. The opportunity that Jackson's season-ending injury afforded Spiller last year may have helped the latter's confidence, but we still haven't seen a Bills offense that utilizes both backs effectively. Now that both players appear capable of carrying the load by themselves, Gailey's creativity will be tested: can he make both players productive simultaneously, or will he fall back on the old coaching standby, "ride the runner that's hot"?