Jay Ross played eight snaps for the Buffalo Bills during the 2012 regular season. The rest of the time he was a stowaway on the team's practice squad, where the 6'3", 319-pound former undrafted free agent has spent the vast majority of his first three seasons as a pro football player.
One game. Eight snaps. In three years. Now, suddenly, Ross is one of the more intriguing names as Buffalo's training camp begins.
Ross was an afterthought last December when he was added back to the Bills' active roster, where he took the place of injured running back Fred Jackson. He spent the last several weeks of the season on the inactive list as a healthy scratch - but given that the Bills handed him a two-year, $870,000 contract when they signed him, it was clear that the plan was to keep Ross on board through the off-season.
That was, of course, before the team's massive organizational overhaul, which included replacing the entirety of the coaching staff. Instead of falling by the wayside during that transition, however, Ross has seemingly thrived.
It started back in May, when three of the team's top four defensive linemen - Kyle Williams (foot surgery), Marcell Dareus (personal reasons) and Alan Branch (personal) - missed OTA practices. Alex Carrington was the main playing time beneficiary with the first-team defense, but Ross ran with the ones, as well. Even after Dareus returned to the team in late May, Ross continued to steal first-team reps, according to BuffaloBills.com:
With Kyle Williams and Mario Williams as locks on the defensive line, Dareus is competing with Alex Carrington for the last spot in the three-man front, and Carrington has seen a significant share of first-team reps this spring. In a four-man front, Dareus saw more snaps, but still split some time with first-year defensive tackle Jay Ross.
Then, as training camp opened on Sunday evening, Williams was held out of team drills and Dareus appeared limited. There, again, was Ross working with the first-team defensive line. Courtesy of ESPN.com's Mike Rodak:
The biggest takeaway was that Marcell Dareus saw limited action, especially with the top unit. It's unclear if he was nursing any type of injury. In his place, Alex Carrington and Jay Ross saw significant reps with top groups at linebacker and defensive back behind them.
Clearly, circumstance has led to much of Ross's first-team work this off-season - but he's made the most of the opportunity, with WGR 550's Joe Buscaglia writing that Ross has "caught the eye of the new coaching staff" with the extra reps. Plus, circumstances may not change any time soon; Williams will be integrated in slowly (though he is participating in individual drills at this point), and the enigma surrounding Dareus being limited has yet to be cleared up. A conservative guess, however, puts Ross at fifth in the defensive line pecking order - behind Williams, Dareus, Carrington and Branch (who also saw first-team work on Sunday) - and in an early lead with players like Torell Troup, Corbin Bryant and Jarron Gilbert for a reserve defensive tackle role.
Ross, who will turn 26 in October, was part of a star-studded East Carolina defensive line that saw two other players turn pro in the 2010 season: Linval Joseph was a second-round pick of the New York Giants (and has started for Perry Fewell for the last two seasons), and C.J. Wilson was a seventh-round pick of the Green Bay Packers (he started eight games in 2012). In his college career, Ross recorded 140 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks in 38 career games. Professionally, he spent time with New Orleans and Green Bay before latching on with Buffalo during the 2011 season.
Whether or not Ross can do enough this summer to stay with the team remains to be seen, but for a player with his track record - former undrafted free agent that's done what he can just to stick in the league for three years - he's off to about as strong a start as is feasible this season.