Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is gaining a reputation this off-season as a guy who is firmly stepping into the typical leadership role of an NFL starting quarterback.
After speaking with second-year receiver David Nelson yesterday about his role in the cleanup in Joplin, he answered some other questions about the team. The first question I asked was about Fitzpatrick. Nelson didn't hesitate before mentioning Fitzpatrick's demeanor.
"I see so much confidence in him," said Nelson.
Nelson went into detail about how the position battle affected Fitzpatrick last off-season. While head coach Chan Gailey called it an open competition between Fitzpatrick and the now-departed Trent Edwards, Nelson saw it a different way.
"Last year they said it was a quarterback battle, but I think everyone knew that Trent was the guy from the very beginning," said Nelson. "I think Fitz knew that and knew his role at the time. He wasn't going to step on anybody's toes. He was working hard trying to compete for the job, but I think he knew."
Buffalo's quarterback situation couldn't look much more different now. Fitzpatrick is the only quarterback on the roster with starting experience. Gone is Edwards, who was released after only three weeks. Brian Brohm is a free agent and may not return. The only other quarterback on the roster when free agency opens will be Levi Brown, who was cut at the end of training camp last year - only to be re-signed when the Bills dumped Edwards. To top it all off, the Bills didn't take a quarterback in the 2011 NFL Draft, solidifying Fitzpatrick as the go-to guy this season.
"This year he knows he's the guy, and I think with the draft this year was a vote of confidence that Chan is giving him," continued Nelson. "It gives him confidence because he knows he's the leader. He's acting that way."
John Wawrow of the Associated Press also mentioned the change in Fitzpatrick's demeanor earlier this week.
"One moment, he's sitting on the turf catching up with a group of Bills receivers," wrote Wawrow. "The next, he's wandered to the far end of the field to watch safety George Wilson holding an impromptu walkthrough for the team's younger players. Before leaving the suburban Buffalo sports complex that served home to the Bills' player-organized workouts last week, Fitzpatrick then made sure to check in with a group of reporters to see what questions they might have."
Not only is Fitzpatrick leading in the public eye, but also behind the scenes, as Nelson explains.
"He's calling guys to come out to Arizona to work out with him. He's calling the offense and making sure they are working out and checking in with guys. You should see the way he acts around guys now," said Nelson. "Everybody walked in there and knew this was my quarterback and he was the guy."
To his credit, Fitzpatrick has embraced his new role with open arms (and an open house).
"I love it," he told Wawrow. "That's why I play quarterback. I love being the guy that everybody looks up to. The starting quarterback is the guy who is looked at as the natural leader. I think these off-season workouts allow me to continue to grow into that role."
Reggie Torbor also noticed the new Fitzpatrick this off-season, telling Wawrow, "Fitz doesn't have to put on a shirt that says, 'I'm a leader now.' ... He didn't have to fill out a leadership application or take a course. It's in him. When things get going rough, even the leaders look to Fitz. That's the way he is now and I think he's accepted that role, embraced it. And we believe in him."