Before he left town for the winter, Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller spoke with reporters on Monday about a 2013 campaign that most fans were disappointed with, but that the back feels a bit more comfortable about.
"Overall, I thought it was a good year," Spiller said. "From the outside in, y’all guys will probably say it was down because of the numbers, but when you get a new system to try to get to accustomed to it as quickly as you have to, I thought I did a pretty good job with that."
Spiller disclosed his personal preseason goals to reporters, as well - he'd wanted to run for 1,500 yards, average 6.0 yards per carry, and score 15 touchdowns. He clearly fell short in those of those goals (he ran for 927 yards, averaged 4.6 yards per carry, and scored only two touchdowns) in large part because of a high ankle sprain that kept him on the sideline more than he otherwise might have been.
"(The injury) had a big effect on how I played, because I was in and out of games," Spiller told reporters. "Really wasn’t myself until late in the season. But now I get some rest, let it heal as much as it can, and then come back next year and really try to explode."
The playing time disparity between Spiller and fellow runner Fred Jackson was significant, not only because of Spiller's injury, but because of his limited third-down role, which Jackson assumed because of his superior blocking ability. Yet as Spiller alluded to, playing time between he and Jackson evened out considerably as he got healthier, with Jackson playing 78 snaps to Spiller's 70 over the last two games of the season. (And yes, Jackson's cracked ribs may have played a role in those numbers, as well.)
Even as Jackson saw much more playing time (and found the end zone far more frequently) in 2013, Spiller still finished the season as the Bills' leading rusher.
Bills head coach Doug Marrone told reporters in his own year-end press conference that the team had been working to get Spiller where they wanted him to be within their offensive system, and that over the last two weeks of the season they'd started to see more of what they wanted. (Spiller ran 39 times for 182 yards in those games.)
"We’ve been working on a couple of things," Marrone said of Spiller. "In the situations that we ran him this year, I think when you look back it was different than the situations that he ran the year before. The injury did play a factor in some of that production. But I did see him improve at the end of the year. Even yesterday, you saw him stick it up in there, break it, become more physical. Now, whether that was because of the injury and feeling much better about it. But there are signs of him having the ability to get to those numbers."
Now entering his fifth pro season, Spiller is technically under contract through the end of the 2015 season, but has an opt-out clause in his 2010 rookie deal that could make the 2014 campaign his last in Buffalo. In tandem with Jackson, the Bills have enjoyed the luxury of running their offense through two highly talented backs, and despite the unmet expectations on Spiller's part, when your top two backs power the league's No. 2 ranked rushing attack and combine for 1,823 rushing yards, 572 receiving yards and 12 total touchdowns, you're in a pretty good spot. The question this spring and heading into next summer will be whether or not Spiller can definitively become a lead back in Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett's offense - and, beyond that, whether he can be the bell cow for this team beyond his rookie deal.
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